To meet today’s global sustainability challenges, the corporate world needs more than a few chief sustainability officers – it needs an army of employees, in all areas of business, thinking about sustainability in their decisions every day.
That means product designers, supply managers, economists, scientists, architects and many others with the knowledge to both recognize unsustainable practices and find ways to improve sustainability for the overall health of their companies and the planet.
Employers are increasingly looking for those skills. We analyzed job ads from a global database and found a tenfold increase in the number of jobs with “sustainability” in the title over the last decade, reaching 177,000 in 2021.
What’s troubling is that there are not enough skilled workers to meet the rapid growth in green and sustainability jobs available.
While the number of “green jobs” grew globally at a rate of 8% per year over the last five years, the number of people listing green skills in their profiles only grew by 6% per year, according to a LinkedIn analysis of its nearly 800 million users.
As professors who train future workers in sustainability principles and techniques, we see several effective ways for people at all stages of their careers to gain those skills and increase those numbers.
In the U.S., jobs in the renewable energy and environment sectors, grew by 237% over the last five years. Globally, the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy is forecast to result in a net increase in jobs for the energy sector.
But green jobs go well beyond solar panel installation and wind turbine maintenance.
Sustainable fashion is one of the fastest-growing green jobs sectors, averaging a 90% growth rate annually between 2016 and 2020.
The rapid expansion of ESG investing – environment, social and governance – and portfolio management is opening up new jobs in sustainable finance. In 2021, the accounting firm PwC announced that it would invest US$12 billion and create 100,000 new jobs in ESG investing by 2026.
There is also a growing demand for urban sustainability officers who can help transition cities to be net-zero carbon and more resilient. After all, the world is adding 1 million people to cities every five days and building 20,000 American football fields’ worth of urban areas someplace on the planet every day.
In 2013, when the Rockefeller Foundation launched 100 Resilient Cities, a network to help cities become more sustainable, few cities had a resilience or sustainability officer. Today, more than 250 communities and 1,000 local government professionals are part of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network.
The number of companies with chief sustainability officers in executive positions also tripled from 9% to 28% between 2016 and 2021. But given the scale and business opportunities of sustainability, these skills are needed much more widely within organizations.
Most sustainability and green jobs require creative problem-solving, synthesizing and technical skills. Some of those skills can be learned on the job, but boosting the number of qualified job applicants will require more