Upskilling Leaders To Drive The Sustainability Agenda20 July, 2022 / Articles
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Over the last few years, we have seen significant changes to the frameworks and standards that underpin the corporate world. From the Sustainable Financial Disclosure Regulation to the recent Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures framework, businesses and investors are being forced to respond to a wave of new disclosure and reporting requirements.
Yet one area which requires further progress is business education. To successfully drive sustainability, business leaders must develop an integrated view of sustainability within the context of business management. Due to the number of topics which fall under the banner of sustainability, a one-size-fits all approach cannot be adopted. Initial steps such as carbon literacy training can help raise general awareness and understanding, but holistically upskilling business leaders will be critical to supporting our transition to a more sustainable future.
Preventing sustainability silos
The responsibility of a company’s sustainability strategy should not sit solely within one department. The effective management and measurement of sustainability issues should be woven throughout business leadership, from supply chain management to marketing. All employees need to have a comprehensive understanding of the sustainability issues facing their business and the subsequent impact on stakeholders.
There are several ways this can be achieved. Board members can establish a sustainability committee to monitor the overall delivery and performance of a company’s sustainability strategy. Management teams can review internal processes to make sure sustainability is continuously considered. Simple steps like making sustainability a mandatory meeting item can help instil a culture change. Creating a feedback channel within the wider workforce is also key. Employees should be given a voice in creating and delivering a company’s sustainability strategy, and initiatives like sustainability ambassadors can help drive employee engagement.
The language of sustainability needs to be collectively learnt and spoken. Apart from encouraging collective ownership, it also helps create an organisational culture rooted in delivering a long-term, sustainable impact.
With companies starting to transition their business model to a cleaner and greener future, we have a unique opportunity to reset and ensure sustainability is integrated across all business functions and decision-making processes. Business leaders need to be encouraged to make decisions that are both strategic and sustainable. This could be achieved by linking sustainability objectives to executive remuneration or employee annual performance reviews. However, meaningful change will only be achieved if there is a collective understanding of why sustainability is important and critically, how it is relevant to individuals and their day-to-day responsibilities.
Demand for sustainability talent calls for a new type of business education
Last year, demand for sustainability talent outstripped supply. In response, companies stepped up their investment for recruiting, and retaining, sustainability professionals. Companies like PwC have led the charge, committing $12 billion to create 100,000 new jobs in ESG by 2026, but for many organisations attracting sustainability talent in a highly competitive market is an ongoing challenge.
Financing the transition to a low-carbon economy will require the deployment of capital to more sustainable solutions, but it will also require investment in the next generation of business leaders. As an example, some pioneering universities are contributing to the sustainability agenda by adopting a more sustainability-focused curriculum or developing dedicated sustainability research centres. Academic institutions have also established partnerships with other universities to inform their faculty research or facilitate international student exchange programmes to promote knowledge-sharing. Outside of academia, organisations such as The Taskforce on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures has developed case studies and other educational resources, including an interactive climate risk game, whereas the Value Reporting Foundation offers business leaders access to networking events and webinars on a range of sustainability topics.
For many, sustainability is still a relatively new paradigm. However, the level of interest amongst all stakeholders, from employees to investors, cannot be disputed. It’s vital we support talent and equip future leaders with the tools and knowledge required to achieve our global sustainability commitments. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”