What really is the State of Our Profession?

by Shannon Houde

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

For the green jobs sector, the last two years could easily be dubbed ‘the Great Expansion.’

That’s the findings in the latest State of the Profession report by Greenbiz which maps out all the significant progress made in the last 24 months, as well as the myriad challenges that remain.

It’s fascinating stuff, but it also spans 37 pages so if you’re short on time and looking for the most important takeaways, here’s the most important bits to note.


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The good news is that CEOs are more engaged, companies are expanding their sustainability efforts (and the teams working on those efforts) and making more commitments to reduce key areas of environmental impact, such as GHG emissions.

Rather than destroy the sustainability profession, in fact Covid-19 added fuel to the fire, with respondents reporting a 24-point increase in budgets allocated to sustainability by organisations compared to 2019, and 76% reporting an increase in the size of specialist teams.

These same organisations are recruiting more specialist sustainability leaders too. Greenbiz found that in the last 12 years there’s been a 13%-point decrease in large companies without executives working full time on sustainability. Even since the last survey in 2020, the number of senior execs solely leading on this part of the business has seen a 5%-point increase.

There’s also a steady rise in pay packets. The average total compensation for sustainability managers is $146,900. For directors, it’s $227,158 and for vice presidents, $404,972.

All this growing demand for ESG expertise has also transformed the dynamics when it comes to how, and from where, companies hire sustainability professionals.

Looking to create larger and more specialist teams, companies are increasingly looking outside their own business to recruit, rather than hiring from within. A decade ago less than half (45%) of team members were hired externally. In the last six years, that’s risen to two thirds. For smaller companies, that average is as high as 71%.

The bad news is that this expansion hasn’t happened hand-in-hand with greater diversity across the profession. More than 80% of people that took part in the survey were white. And though gender diversity has improved, with far more women taking up roles at all levels, that isn’t reflected in pay. The report found there is “a major compensation gap” at the director level.

Interestingly, 45% of VPs working in sustainability said they got their position because they were directly headhunted, a process that only helps to compound confirmation bias in the talent pool.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the report comes in its closing pages.

Yes, there is huge and rapidly growing opportunities for people to work in the sustainability space. But the “hard truth” we all need to face is that we still need to go further. “We are nowhere close to having sufficient green talent, green skills, or green jobs to deliver the green transition”.“We are nowhere close to having sufficient green talent, green skills, or green jobs to deliver the green transition”, summarise its authors. In fact, based on current trajectories, the total number of workers moving into the industry is falling behind.

A wake-up call to all of us I’m sure you’ll agree, whatever side of the hiring table you sit on.


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