In the face of pressing environmental crises, regulatory pressures and growing public awareness, sustainability has become an imperative for companies worldwide. As organisations strive to embrace sustainable practices, they encounter a serious obstacle—the sustainability skills gap. The sustainability skills gap refers to the shortage of professionals equipped with the knowledge, expertise, and competencies needed to drive sustainable initiatives within businesses. Addressing this gap is not only vital for the success of companies but also crucial for the well-being of our planet.
In November 2022, Microsoft partnered with BCG to interview employees from 15 sustainability frontrunner companies on their sustainability workforce challenges. Unsurprisingly, their research highlighted a great sustainability skills gap in every industry across the world, including those companies at the top percentile of corporate ESG performance. It also highlighted that most companies have been mobilising the “home-grown” talent for their ESG workstreams. As of 2022, 68% of the sustainability leaders hired were from within the companies. Employers assigned those talented insiders with the core functional skill sets to ESG leadership roles to drive their companies´ sustainability transitions, although 60% of them lacked any expertise or formal training in sustainability.
Could the sustainability skills gap be the missing piece in companies’ struggle to translate sustainability ambitions into high-impact action? The answer is a definitive ´yes´. The numbers above paint a clear picture of why companies should shift their focus on upskilling (i.e., teaching employees new skills to optimise their sustainability performance) and reskilling (i.e., training employees to adapt to a new sustainability role) their employees to accomplish their business-critical sustainability goals while avoiding the trap of unintended ´greenwashing´ (i.e., sustainability claims of a company that cannot be substantiated by evidence or net positive impact likely to be realised).
It is, indeed, possible that some ESG skills can be learned on the job, but many of them cannot. What is more, boosting the adequate and accessible sustainability learning opportunities for your employees can take your company from being an ESG ´laggard´ to an ESG ´runner´.
For the new talent who opts for a career in sustainability, there are more university degrees and programmes available than ever before. For those who are already in your workforce, there are several other types of learning opportunities to consider when it comes to sustainability skilling. Micro-credentials such as in-house courses, workshops, and online learning modules are excellent options for mid-career employees to build or update their sustainability skills. Specialisation through job-focused online certificate programmes can also earn your employees the sustainability specialisation tailored to your company´s needs. Some companies are taking a step further in their ambition and starting to provide corporate training for their employees and the employees of their supply chains in various fields such as climate science, Scope 1-2-3 emissions, sustainable finance and ESG reporting.
Regardless of the type of learning solutions preferred, spreading sustainability knowledge, practice and skills across your organisation is of paramount importance to future-proof your business. Once your company is ready to bridge your employees´ sustainability skills gap, there are three things you need to keep in mind:
Many of the internally hired professionals with new ESG roles initially reskill themselves through self-learning, which may lead them to spend their time on the ´wrong issue´ that is not material to their companies. Another common problem for these individuals is to know where to start their learning process and how to make sense of the plethora of ESG categories, data points and an ever-growing sustainability jargon.
Having transitioned from a non-ESG role, they are also often required to juggle their new role with previous responsibilities. As a result, the individuals who are new to the sustainability space quickly find themselves in an ´ESG fatigue´, left with feelings of inefficacy, exhaustion and cynicism.
This is why a new ESG hiring process needs to be followed by a robust onboarding process for sustainability skills building to ensure individuals receive the adequate help they need to perform their best in their new roles.
Given the sheer speed at which new sustainability regulations and standards are introduced into companies´ compliance lists, ESG professionals need to continuously keep themselves up-to-date on this moving target to avoid non-compliance blindspots. The European Green Deal is a great example of such an exponential increase in regulatory compliance. The European Parliament records that, since its approval in 2020, the European Green Deal arrived at 54 carriages of its 152-carriage legislative train to its destination in less than three years.
Coupled with the exponential growth in ESG-responsible investment, the speed of new industries market innovations and new sustainability technologies; the sustainability landscape can be quite dizzying for the untrained eye. This calls for continuing learning opportunities made available to sustainability professionals to be able to update their skills and knowledge of new developments, so they can be on par with steering their companies in the right direction in response to the ever-increasing regulatory, technological and market trends at the right time.
As companies are grappling with the regulatory, consumer and investor pressures for sustainable business conduct, only a few of them can understand the breadth, complexity, and granularity of their material ESG issues. Grasping this complexity often requires help from sustainability professionals with scientific, cross-disciplinary, and non-financial backgrounds. However, the scarcity of highly calibrated sustainability talent in the private sector creates a vacuum and gives way for some professionals to present themselves as ESG experts.
This is why relying solely on the ´professional recycling´ of your talented employees for ESG roles may put your company at risk of ´competence greenwashing´ (i.e., overstated claims of environmental competence/non-financial sustainability-related expertise in the absence of material or credible educational or professional track records).
However, it is not so realistic to expect every company to have the available resources to attract sustainability professionals with the right expertise nor would they adopt a strategic approach to ESG risks and opportunities to justify a new hire or to start an entire ESG programme. For such companies with limited resources, one thing is crucial to keep in mind: making sure that the curriculum of the sustainability certificates and micro-credentials they purchase for their skilling needs are created by sustainability professionals with scientific, cross-sectoral and non-financial backgrounds, rather than by those with only financial sector roles. As your company leans into its sustainability transformation more strategically, receiving adequate learning from credible sources becomes a pivotal step.
Do you want to catapult your company´s sustainability goals into achievements? Then, start the clock now to bridge the sustainability skills gap in your company. Soon enough, you will have a high-value ESG team on your side, no matter how complex the sustainability landscape looks like.
At Mannaz A/S, our ambition is to move what matters and we are certain that sustainability is worth moving forward to reach thriving businesses, positive societies, and a healthy planet.
With this ambition in mind, we are proud to bring you a team of highly skilled sustainability professionals with exceptional credentials and we are continuously growing our portfolio of up-to-date and evidence-based sustainability learning products, tailored to your company´s needs.
Contact us to learn more about how we can help you equip your people with the skills they need to take your company to new heights in the sustainability arena.
 Schumacher, Kim, Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Factors and Green Productivity: The Impacts of Greenwashing and Competence Greenwashing on Sustainable Finance and ESG Investing (December 15, 2022). APO Productivity Insights Vol. 2-11 (2022), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4303609 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4303609
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