How to earn more while making a difference

by Shannon Houde

2020 has been a bumper year for the CSR and sustainability sector as companies were reminded of the need to do good (and to be seen to do good). But what exactly has that meant for the pay checks sustainability professionals are walking away with? Here are 7 takeaways from Acre’s 2020 CSR Salary Survey to help you land a job that pays well and makes a difference in 2021.

Image by Alexsander-777 from Pixabay

1. The more critical CSR / sustainability becomes, the higher the rewards

From a global pandemic, to the Black Lives Matter movement, and the devastating wildfires that swept California, the last 12 months have served as a constant reminder of the need for companies to end up on the right side of history.

As a result, the level of commitment to corporate responsibility among senior executives has risen by seven percentage points since 2018 – with two thirds now rating that commitment as high / very high.


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To deliver on that commitment companies are willing to pay.  The mean global salary in CSR / sustainability grew a significant 21% from 2018 to £76,182, with North America the best regional payers with a mean salary of £112,000.

2. Looking for top dollar? Opt for an in-house role.

Though all roles in sustainability / CSR saw a bump up the pay bracket, those professionals working in in-house roles remain the top earners in the industry.

While in-house roles benefited from an average increase in pay of 21%, for consultants it was slightly less at 17%, with the average salary gap widening to £16,000. That gap gets wider (or smaller) depending on where you work though. In the UK, for example, it has more than doubled to £14,000 or 25%, while in North America it’s just 11%.

3. With their skills in demand, sustainability professionals can afford to be picky

As sustainability and CSR grows in importance, across all sectors, professionals are finding themselves able to be more discerning when it comes to what they do and for whom they work.

That’s left industries with a less rosy reputation as regards sustainability having to dig deeper to attract the best talent. It’s arguably why companies operating in natural resources (mining, oil, gas etc) have emerged once again as the best paying sector, with an average salary of £121,600 (up 25%) reflective of their challenges, and even their risks.

That’s closely followed by industrials (£118,500) as companies in this space place an increasing emphasis on climate change, then aviation, health, tech, manufacturing and consumer goods, all paying around £95,000 on average.

4. Women are better represented – but still underpaid

The good news is that women have got more seats at the table. At the senior leadership level women have near parity with men on representation, or even a majority in some cases. That’s good news for everyone, with organisations that have more than 30% of cis women in senior leadership roles outperforming those that don’t.

The bad news is that this improvement in representation isn’t reflected in their average pay, with a gender pay gap of 10%. That is a slight improvement from 2018, when it was 13%, but only marginally. And in some regions the disparity is worsening, widening from 22% in Europe (excl. the UK) in 2018, to 22% in 2020.

5. Expectations for education are rising

As sustainability and CSR becomes both more competitive and more clearly defined within organisations, recruiters appear to be raising the bar on education. An overwhelming 90% of people surveyed by Acre possessed either an undergraduate degree and/or a postgraduate degree. Plus, the number of people undertaking postgraduate courses increased over 10%, from 61% in 2018 to 68% this year. As the CVs pile up, in other words, it is becoming more and more important to find a way to stand out.

6. Want to stand out? Develop a specialism in climate change

As the environment becomes an ever more dominant part of global discussions around sustainability, it’s also becoming an increasingly important part of any sustainability professional’s remit. In fact, both those in in-house roles and consultants now rank climate change and carbon as their second most important priority, only trumped by strategy development.

Rising in importance for consultants too is responsible investment / ESG as institutional investors increase their demands, and in-house professionals find themselves perhaps lacking the time / expertise to handle it alone.

7. Best of all… most sustainability professionals enjoy their job

Over a quarter of those surveyed said they were ‘very satisfied’ with their roles, while a little more than half (52%) said they were satisfied. But even more impressive is the fact that 89% would recommend a career in sustainability / CSR to others (a slight increase of three percentage points on 2018).

If you are in, or looking to break into, a career in CSR / sustainability and want to understand how you can boost pay, secure that next big promotion or ensure you’re on an equal footing as your peers when it comes to remuneration, why not sign up here for a 30-minute trial session with me. We can talk through how to take your career to the next level in 2021.


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