Patrick Ritchie, Manager Lead, Key Accounts, Atrius®, Acuity Brands and Kunal Sikka, Vice President, New Markets, Sales and Business Development, Distech Controls share what opportunities are coming out of the woodwork in the ever-evolving landscape of sustainability.
As organizations around the world strive for more sustainable business practices, their increasing interest is reflected in the job market and workforce. LinkedIn is tracking the rise of sustainability in its annual Global Green Skills Report, finding in its most recent study that there are increasingly more job postings seeking candidates with at least one sustainability skill. The number of workers with these skills is also growing, albeit more slowly, to meet this high demand.
Thanks to the growing need for sustainability professionals, there are more pathways emerging into the field, and the number of skilled workers across multiple disciplines and industries is also increasing. Beyond titles like Chief Sustainability Officer, sustainability is becoming a common component in many traditional roles. Jobs in Facilities Management, Supply Chain Management and Architecture/Construction all include elements of sustainability for most modern companies. The field will continue evolving as the concepts of sustainability become more ingrained into every role throughout an organization – as they must in order to see real progress towards net zero goals.
Today’s roles are evolving to have at least one ESG responsibility
With more companies committing to ESG goals, current roles are shifting so workers up and down an organization have a hand in accomplishing these goals. For most workers, this amounts to at least one of three specific responsibilities: recording, reporting and reducing emissions.
These tasks take different forms across different types of roles and industries, and touch jobs that aren’t traditionally focused on sustainability. For example, if a food manufacturing company announces its goal to reach net zero emissions by 2040, every division of the company will take part in at least one of the above responsibilities. The product design team will source sustainable ingredients and packaging to make food products more environmentally friendly.
The facilities and transportation teams will start recording emissions to/from manufacturing sites and shipping routes to capture the company’s initial baseline and help track progress. The employees working in the manufacturing facilities will be on the front line of adapting to the new energy, waste and equipment processes that make operations greener. The finance team will be responsible for annual reporting and auditing for regulatory requirements.
Organizational ESG objectives aren’t accomplished through one individual or team alone. It’s all hands on deck in order to accomplish these goals and make a significant, long lasting impact. As a result many workers will have at least one transferable sustainability skill that can be applied to future roles.
Education and vocational training opportunities for workers will grow
In its 2022 report on sustainability skills, Microsoft found that the majority of today’s sustainability leaders lack a related degree and were hired internally for their position. This indicates that in-house upskilling is doing a lot to prepare workers for these roles; but with sustainability skills becoming more in-demand, there are more formalized pathways for workers to gain this knowledge.
The trades are increasingly a starting point for entering sustainability as a profession. Construction, utilities, mechanical and manufacturing jobs are some of the sectors that are actively providing sustainability experience to workers. With job creation funded by the Inflation Reduction Act, a lot of new roles are involved in clean energy production, installation and maintenance. Similarly, areas like new construction, retrofits, and vehicle production are contributing to a greener built environment and transportation system. Workers can gain hands-on experience through apprenticeships in these areas and transfer their skills to roles like sustainability management.
Higher education is continually expanding its sustainability offerings, which benefits future entrants into the workforce and ensures companies have enough talent to fill their specialized sustainability roles. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that between 2012 and 2016, the number of bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees related to sustainability increased by 15%, 38% and 50% respectively. This number is only growing as universities align their programs with climate research and the strong desire within college-age students to make a positive impact on climate change.
Sustainability roles will follow a bell curve for specialization
As sustainability programs progress and evolve over time, we can expect titles and responsibilities in these roles to evolve as well. Catch-all titles for sustainability jobs today are common, where their responsibilities can cover a breadth of related tasks like data collection, reporting, project management, budgeting and organizational messaging. Currently, these tasks are often broken apart and distributed across roles that aren’t necessarily sustainability titles. While workers across marketing, finance, facilities management and more have drastically different skill sets, they still contribute to their organization’s progress and goals.
There will very likely be another shift in the next decade or so. Right now, a lot of focus goes toward emissions reductions that are relatively simple or straightforward to accomplish like energy efficiency. Tackling the low-hanging fruit of one’s carbon footprint makes immediate progress and can also save money that can be put toward the next sustainability project. But those will become more complex over time and require specific expertise — leading to specialized roles designed to tackle these longer, more challenging hurdles. Upskilling and educational opportunities will both give workers the knowledge and skills needed for success in these roles.
Today’s sustainable talent brings a green future into view
These workforce developments are a positive indicator of where the sustainability field is headed. No longer a niche field like in decades prior, more and more workers are tackling important problems and gaining the necessary skills to make a measurable difference in how their organizations operate. The increase in diversity across sustainability experience also means we can expect more innovation in approaches to clean energy, emissions reductions and stakeholder involvement — all of which will bring us to a greener world as quickly as we need to be.
As Vice President of Sales and Business Development for New Markets, Kunal Sikka is responsible for expansion of the Distech Controls and Atrius offerings across Latin America, Middle East and India.
Kunal joined Acuity Brands as the global VP of Sales responsible for the Atrius portfolio of energy reporting and sustainability SaaS solutions. Prior to joining Acuity Brands, Kunal was at Microsoft where he held multiple positions, in the US and internationally, leading Microsoft’s global partnerships and OEM business.
Patrick Ritchie is the Key Account Manager Lead supporting the Atrius software within the Intelligent Spaces Group at Acuity Brands. In this position, he leverages his experience in sustainability and the company’s innovative solutions and technologies to drive sustainable practices and energy efficiency for his clients.
Patrick has a degree in Sustainable Management from the University of Wisconsin and over the last 10 years has worked in buildings, sustainability or energy in some capacity with experience ranging from steamfitting, community climate & energy planning and energy management system sales.
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