The Importance of Sustainability in Business
Businesses are waking up to the critical role they must play in limiting global warming to 1.5 °C. This figure was set as a target in the Paris Agreement: the first legally binding international climate change treaty. Fast forward six years to November 2021, when the Glasgow Climate Pact was agreed, ushering in a new era of investment in limiting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and building resilience to climate change. As a result, businesses are facing new challenges, but also new opportunities. The good news is, this is creating a whole raft of job options, as sustainability sector skills and knowledge rocket up the list of desired and required qualifications for many roles.
A significant factor in the creation of new opportunities is that companies in the UK and elsewhere are increasingly subject to binding legislation and reporting requirements designed to reduce their carbon footprint. As they grow and pass specific thresholds of staff numbers and annual turnover, businesses are subject to both the Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) regulation, and the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS). These reporting frameworks require businesses to measure their environmental impacts and to assess and plan ways to reduce them. To meet these requirements, companies are calling for workers who are skilled in data collection, number crunching, and writing in a clear and succinct style. In-house staff with these skills are desirable, but many businesses prefer to rely on consultants who specialise in carbon reporting; an area that has seen explosive growth over the past six months.
At the same time, private equity firms are keen to manage businesses with strong environmental credentials. Company KPIs are increasingly tied to sustainability metrics. This satisfies the interest in ethical business of an increasing number of shareholders and investors. It also helps investors avoid future risk resulting from companies failing to meet their carbon reduction targets. This means that businesses that are early adopters and innovators of responses to the pressing sustainability challenges facing the world today gain a competitive advantage. We are seeing this advantage manifesting both in terms of growth and investment opportunities, and in attracting bright talent and workers who are committed to the sustainability agenda. As such, companies need skilled strategists and advisors who can help them to measure and report on climate change risks and opportunities, and design an emissions reduction plan that supports the company’s operations and growth targets.
Beyond the legal requirements, businesses have an ethical responsibility to reduce their contribution to GHGs and to help slow the pace of climate change. But sustainability in business also extends beyond environmental responsibility, to a full suite of environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) impacts. Increasingly, sustainability is seen to include, for example, the way a company treats its staff and contributes to the communities where it operates; the top-down diversity, equity, and inclusiveness of its strategy and policies; and how well it aligns with global sustainability frameworks such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainability is not a ‘one stop shop’, and businesses rely on specialists to help them focus their efforts on the areas where they can have the most impact.
All of this means that businesses that are unable to keep up with the ever-louder calls to action on sustainability will increasingly find they not only miss out on opportunities, but face reputational damage and even statutory repercussions. These are just some of the reasons why careers in sustainability will continue to increase in frequency and importance in the coming decade. Job seekers with the relevant skills and experience will find themselves more in demand than ever.