May 2023
Issue Map
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TD Magazine

The Sustainability Problem

Monday, May 1, 2023

To meet sustainability goals, employers must ramp up employee upskilling.

A stark statistic illustrates our global systemic sustainability issue: Companies may need to train up to 150 million people in less than a decade to turn sustainability ambitions into action. Research by Boston Consulting Group and Microsoft illustrates the existing sustainability skills gap to reduce emissions and the lack of talent needed to close that gap.


According to BCG's report, Put Talent at the Top of the Sustainability Agenda, core teams helping companies take on the sustainability transformation process need individuals with a mix of four broad skill sets: sustainability, functional, transformational, and data and digital. That, however, is a comprehensive profile with a limited talent pool. As a result, companies are selecting internal employees with the necessary functional, transformational, and data and digital expertise and then training those workers to use their talent for sustainability.

Consequently, 60 percent of people on sustainability teams report that they were not hired to work in sustainability; almost one-third of those employees consider themselves experts in a field other than sustainability.

"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," says Rich Lesser, global chair of BCG. "We will need all companies to work together so that our global economy can quickly transition to a sustainable future for our planet."


The steep learning curve of learning new, sustainability-focused roles also works against the issue's urgency. Seventy-six percent of sustainability professionals surveyed said sustainability's constantly evolving domain is the biggest challenge to upskilling. Employees also cite a lack of time for and a lack of access to fit-for-purpose training solutions.

That doesn't bode well for the quickly approaching deadlines that companies want to hit. The report identifies several priorities for businesses to follow to accelerate sustainability change, including:

  • Plan proactively for career paths and create future roles and mobility opportunities for core sustainability talent.
  • Continue to invest in ongoing education and upskilling opportunities to ensure talent keeps up with new sustainability technologies and regulations.
  • Focus on evolving corporate culture to make sustainability an intrinsic part of everyday work.

Only 17 percent of the 4,200 companies that have set science-based targets are on track to meet those emissions targets. Do organizations have the talent they need to make up the enormous gap? There's much work to be done to ensure they do.

About the Author

Bobby Lewis is a writer for ATD; [email protected].

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