The amount of job adds popping up with sustainability in the job title has exploded over the past months and so has the amount of new sustainability consulting companies. This is the new area to work in. Here is an article in Danish about how sustainability creates new jobs.
The bigger consultancy companies are currently trying to develop current employees’ sustainability skills and hiring former sustainability employees from the companies that have worked within this area for a long time, upskilling them to be consultants to meet the rising demand from clients that need help with their sustainability strategy, analyzing their compliance to different sustainability regulations and voluntary schemes, and not least creating the yearly sustainability report. These two articles points at two of the reasons for the big need for help from consultancy houses: EU taxonomy for sustainable activities and SEC Proposes Rules to Enhance and Standardize Climate-Related Disclosures for Investors.

In short, the World is short of people with sustainability skills!

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A sustainability employee is however a broad term covering a range of skills needed ranging from:

  • Advisory expertise in subjects like environment, climate, people, strategy, communication, risk management and much more.
  • Technical skills to collect the data, analyze them and use the insight from the data to make the needed changes.
  • Industry skills, as it is very different to work in e.g. a consumer goods industry than in energy & utility.
  • Domaine knowledge in e.g. asset management, packaging, transport, supply chain etc.
  • Experience with LCA, national legislations, voluntary schemes like SBTI, UNSDG, GHG Protocol, Product Footprint calculation etc.

In big companies it is possible to have large teams covering all of the above skills and more, but finding these employees is increasingly difficult, so both the big, the medium and the small companies are using consultancy firms that got more or LESS experience leading to bad consulting in some cases. There are rumors that some countries are planning to make legislation that can hold the sustainability consultancy firms responsible for the advice they have given, but in the meantime it is recommended for the big companies to hire an advisory board with people that got deep knowledge within relevant sustainability areas. In medium sized companies it can be a good idea to onboard one person in the board of directors that has a sustainability background, but with a good network, as one person cannot cover all the sustainability topics needed to review and advice a company on sustainability.
This leaves behind the small companies, who very often uses especially the small new started sustainability consulting companies to get advice on where to start and what to do. In many ways the small companies are the ones that most often will get wrong advice. The wrong advice though come in many different variances and in some cases the fact that the companies take initiatives to do something might be better than doing nothing. A bit like lifesaving, and google can help look up many things, so it is possible to challenge the consultants. Legislation is however on the way in some countries to ensure the consultants can be held responsible for their advices like e.g. greenwashing (article in Danish): Rådgivere skal også stilles til ansvar for greenwashing.

BUT what can the world do about the lack of experienced and knowledgeable sustainability consultants?
Education! Upskilling of some of the researchers, professors and more that have worked within these areas for many, many years right now have a really good opportunity to make a career change from the university world to the private sector either as in-house specialist in the bigger companies, upskilling for consultancy and much more or as an extra job to the university job, as advisory board members. The last is already happening. See how SEB Establishes External Sustainability Advisory Board and Nespresso established an external Sustainability Advisory Board.
PhD students and students in general from relevant studies should be placed in private companies in much bigger numbers to work closely together with sustainability departments in the companies or consultancy houses to ensure education going both ways; The student bringing in the newest research from the universities and the employees in the company sharing knowledge about how things actually work in the companies.
But also upskilling of people with eg industry knowledge, technology background or consultancy skills to get more knowledge about sustainability, as being a good consultant, it architect or industry specialist is a good starting point, as it is a combination of domain knowledge and sustainability skills that really makes experts worth their money.
As mentioned above sustainability skills covers a broad range of skills and one person don’t hold the full toolkit to do strategy, identify right regulations and voluntary schemes to comply with, find right KPIs, set up the it system to automatically collect the data, ensure transparency throughout the whole chain from raw material certificates from suppliers to proof of sustainability of your product at the other end including identification of what happens to your product after you sold it.
Some years back the companies were craving for employees with IT skills – now it is sustainability skills, and this will continue for years, as there is a general scarcity of employees at the moment and it takes many years to overcome the gap.
Where it has been hard to convince young people to take an IT education then it will not be a problem to attract young people to take the new sustainability educations that are coming, but it will take time before they are educated and ready to go out and work within the sustainability area.

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In the meantime, there are loads of people who would like to work in the area, as it is a nice thing to do and companies over the next years will receive many applications from people who think it would be nice to work in sustainability, but don’t really have any hard skills. On the other hand, change ready people with motivation and dedication can upskill themselves, as commitment will often give those extra percentages needed for taking education and upskilling within the area.
Like with the amount of jobs there are also more and more sustainability educations popping up with very varying level of quality. Consider what is most important for you, if you are about to choose a sustainability education?

  • Specific area of knowledge. E.g. packaging, biodiversity, regulations etc. – often these are short educations of 2-4 days
  • Introduction to the subject within a specific industry – often these are short educations of 2-4 days
  • Full MBA in Sustainability Management – often 1-2 years, Sustainability is just ¼ of the education and you may need to take time off from work. Both virtual and physical ones from known and unknown universities. Big variation in quality.
  • Mini MBAs focused on Sustainability – often 6 months and can be combined with full time work.
  • Free education like the Climate Reality Leadership Education can be a good starting point
  • Loads of webinars are available from the big consultancy firms.

No matter what you choose have in mind why you are doing it and what you need. Specific short educations may in some cases be better if you know what knowledge you lack and are in need of.
Physical education is very good for networking and it should not be underestimated that knowledge exchanged with others students delivers half of the new knowledge you get via study group discussions, and talks in the breaks.
Longer educations like an MBA may be good on the CV, if you doing this as part of a career advancement.
NO matter what then we need more people to be upskilled within sustainability to accommodate for the demand from companies both as internal specialists and as external consultants.

My own story is that I got 17 years of experience within the IT area and got a really good technical foundation for helping customers identify what they need to comply with, where they find the data in- or outside their company, how to automize collection of the data, analyze the data and visualize insight.
In short, I work with technology enablement of the sustainability agenda. Next to that I work in three boards, where sustainability is also on the agenda.
During summer 2021 I started looking for relevant education to get myself upskilled, as I felt that I lacked sufficient knowledge to better advice my customers on sustainability. That lead to a combination of the following 4 educations:

  • Climate Reality Leadership Education (it gives a good background on understanding the climate changes happening and what can be done around it)
  • Sustainability Reporting
  • Sustainability in Boards
  • Mini MBA in Sustainability Management ( all-round education covering visions of a sustainable future, commercial value from sustainability, sustainability strategy and measuring sustainability, LCA & certifications, communication and reporting)

Getting all this new knowledge in many ways has enlightened me of all the other things I still don’t know, but it also confirmed for me that that working as a consultant in this area for many different global companies, combined with the education has given me a very good platform of knowledge and experience that I can utilize to help others with their sustainability journeys whether they are about to start upskilling within the area, need consultancy in their company or maybe a new member of their advisory board. And not least I broadened by network within the sustainability area and now got a lot of new connections that I can reach out and ask about specific questions within e.g. packaging, facility management, production, social side of sustainability and much more.
It is a very exciting area that will create work for many people in the years to come.

3 thoughts on “Lack of Sustainability Skills is a challenge that needs to be addressed”
  1. Very inspiring Anja. You are a fantastic sparringpartner within sustainability and technology

  2. Hi Anja,

    Interesting and very specific article. It could also be interesting to discuss increasing education in sustainability in a broader context like school level, high school level etc.
    Looking forward to follow your blog.

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