Over the past 15 years, the number of companies setting science-based targets has grown to more than 4,200. However, research by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has revealed only 17% of those that have set targets are on track to meet them.
Meeting these goals will require organisations to embed sustainability across their entire business; however, according to research by BCG and Microsoft, there is a sustainability skills gap that must first be closed.
The report, titled Put Talent at the Top of the Sustainability Agenda, examines some of the staffing obstacles that could slow the process of making sustainability a reality, and details how the frontrunners are meeting those challenges during different stages of an organisation’s sustainability transformational journey.
The research is based on the experiences of 15 companies, including Microsoft and BCG, in seven industries across North America, Europe, and Asia. It highlights findings from a survey of almost 250 sustainability professionals at those companies, including more than 50 chief sustainability officers (CSO) and business leaders. Microsoft recently released its own report on closing the sustainability skills gap based on this research it conducted with BCG.
“Value creation for shareholders will increasingly be linked to effective leadership in sustainability, and employees are essential to that progress,” said Rich Lesser, global chair of BCG and a coauthor of the report. “We’re optimistic that an informed, inclusive approach to upskilling can provide us with the human capital we need. But given the urgency, this work must start now—at every company, across most business functions. We will need all companies to work together so that our global economy can quickly transition to a sustainable future for our planet.”
According to the report, companies require individuals with a mix of four broad skill sets to improve its sustainability projects: sustainability, functional, transformational, and data & digital. 84% of sustainability professionals surveyed listed priority skills for being successful in their role in at least two of those four capability areas.
To help with the limited skill base, companies are developing talent by selecting employees with the necessary functional, transformational, and/or data and digital expertise, and then helping them gain the specific expertise to put their talents to work for sustainability.
The report revealed more than half (68%) of sustainability leaders surveyed are “home grown” and hired from within the company, while just 32% are brought in from the outside. More than half of people on sustainability teams (60%) say they were not hired for their sustainability expertise; with 32% considering themselves an expert in another field and 28% reporting they are not an expert in any field.
The report suggest employers must think today about how they will support, enable, and retain their future sustainability-capable workforce, not only to mitigate the risk of losing them to competitors but ultimately to turn sustainability into a lasting competitive advantage with their help.
“With crucial sustainability targets set for as soon as 2030, organisations are faced with a Herculean undertaking: leading the charge on upskilling as many as 150 million people, in various facets of sustainability, in less than ten years,” said Elizabeth Lyle, a managing director and partner at BCG and a coauthor of the report. “Our collaboration with Microsoft shines a spotlight on the practical workforce challenges that companies must navigate on their sustainability journeys. Our goal is to illuminate practices from pioneering companies that can make the path ahead easier for the many companies who will soon be seeking to build their sustainability-capable talent.”
Last year, a report from PwC highlighted similar challenges within the green energy sector, expressing concerns that the current skill gap in energy roles could significantly hinder the countries ambition to reach net zero by the year 2050.
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