Running in parallel with the incredible amount of noise around AI, most people think that digital advances will continue to be the primary catalyst for change in our working lives. Don’t be fooled, however—the major transformation will actually stem from decarbonization and the move to Net Zero.
Over here in Europe, in June of 2022, the EU adopted a Union-wide guidance on learning for the green transition and sustainable development, which calls on member States to make such learning “a priority in education and training policies and programs.”
And big business is already responding. In 2021, PwC announced they plan to hire 100,000 sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) consultants by 2025, a substantial increase from their base of 2,000 people in those roles at that time. When you consider that their current total employee base is slightly over 300,000, it’s clear that PwC is taking its approach to sustainability incredibly seriously and expecting modern business to soon revolve around the green agenda.
One key reason sustainability will be a more significant focus than digital in the coming years is that the digital transition has largely already happened in the last decade. Not all of us turned into developers, or Metaverse make-up artists, which is perhaps why there is a sense of unfinished business. Most of us kept our original job roles and day-to-day tasks, except it all just got more digital.
We are now entering a new era where a similar transition will happen but centered around green and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) activity. Whether or not it has already happened to you, most of us can expect a shift in our jobs and the knowledge base required, spanning across the entire organizational hierarchy.
The shift isn’t solely about hiring more sustainability professionals like PWC is. It’s about building sustainability into people’s everyday work across a company—embedding the right mindset and practices into purchasing, IT, Finance, etc. Think of all of today’s existing jobs but with a green focus. Like digital transformation, this shift will entail bringing the right or new skills in while infusing the whole enterprise with a new way of thinking and working.
The exact nature of the transformation will depend very much on the specificities of your career and industry. However, there are some common changes to consider as a starting point, and by envisioning these changes, one can begin to grasp the new skills and responsibilities that will come with them.
- Initially, in purchasing, the only balance to achieve up to now has been between the dollar spend and quality. Now it’s dollar, quality, and carbon. This means getting to grips with the carbon burden along the supply chain so the ripple effects continue. Moreover, the impact on biodiversity is another aspect that cannot be overlooked.
- We also need to develop software that can run on older computers. We need to shift rapidly from a mindset of switching our computers and smartphones every two years. Instead, we should focus on prolonging the lives of perfectly good older equipment to avoid needless landfill. This will require a change in mindset and technical approach from people in the IT industry.
- In finance, there needs to be a greater focus on carbon accounting and associated finance regulation. In HR, managers now need to think about how employee contracts account for extreme heat waves or how they will articulate their company’s CSR commitment in a way that resonates with younger generations.
But to really understand the change, you need to get granular and look at individuals. To bring this to life, Axa Climate recently released a whitepaper shining a spotlight on the experts who are the perfect embodiment of a changing world of work.
In the research, one instance of adapting existing jobs for a sustainable future can be seen in the case of Valérie Decamp, the executive director of Mediatransports, a continental advertising agency specializing in the public transport sector.
After joining in 2013 and originally overseeing the digitalization of the advertising network, Valérie is now continuing to transform the company to meet today’s environmental challenges. She does this by allocating a portion of the firm’s advertising inventory to NGOs and other organizations that promote public and business awareness of environmental issues. And to address the concern of greenwashing, Valérie is also establishing a responsible pricing structure across the company that considers the level of eco-responsibility of both the advertisement and the advertiser. Reflecting on her role changing so rapidly, she told us: “The major challenge is to redefine the business of advertising. From promoting mass consumption, we must move to promote more sober and responsible behavior in an attempt to meet environmental challenges.”
Similarly, Xavier Molinié, a human resources director in the management team of a tech firm called Critizr, which offers a customer interaction management platform, provides an insightful example. While the direct connection between his role and the climate may not be immediately apparent, he highlights the importance of preparing for the necessary skill changes to facilitate the company’s sustainable transition. This involves expanding the CSR teams and acquiring new expertise across the company in areas like green IT, “carbon accounting,” and innovative communication methods.
Xavier’s position underscores the crucial role of HR departments in anticipating the changes in skills required. There can be no transition without cultural adaptation and upskilling, which will likely result in an increasing struggle for talent in the future.
Meanwhile, our whitepaper also showcased how brand new jobs are also springing up at the forefront of the new green agenda that you may not have ever considered as a possible career path in your industry.
Let’s consider the Business Development Bank of Canada, a government institution supporting Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The organization has established a dedicated role called the lead sustainability and decarbonization projects incubator, held by Pierre-Olivier Brodeur.
Pierre-Olivier defines his role as primarily focused on the development of financial products, such as loans, and non-financial banking services, including business consulting and informational platforms. These offerings are all fully geared to assist SMEs in reducing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Pierre-Olivier cautions us that “Transformation cannot succeed if it’s treated as just another project.” He also emphasizes the green advice he often gives businesses: to allocate sufficient financial resources, provide employees with time to focus on this transition, and clearly communicate the strategic significance of the ongoing achievements. Speaking on the importance of his new-found job, he said, “No matter what trajectory the climate crisis takes, I want to be able to look my children and grandchildren in the eye and know that I’ve worked towards the avoidance of disaster.”
Another example of a completely novel green job born out of an urgent need is Anne Desormais, who holds the position of extra-financial information leader at the sporting goods retailer Decathlon. As described by Anne, this non-conventional job title entails her responsibility for collecting and transforming all the company’s sustainable work data to make it as accessible, clear, and transparent as possible. This responsibility goes beyond what is typically emphasized in the annual financial report (hence the term “extra” in her job title).
The direction of travel is clear, and we see it daily in our work. If your job hasn’t yet adapted to have more of a sustainable focus, it’s a matter of when not if.
The challenge in cultivating green skills is unprecedented and accelerating rapidly. This places an onus on employers to train their teams and prepare their people for a job that enables them to act on the change they want to see in the world.
This will be the biggest challenge, opportunity, and transformation in the world of work in the next 10 years.
Celli Lloyd joined AXA Climate in 2022, supporting large companies in engaging and upskilling all their employees to create the necessary baseline of understanding of sustainability. His previous experience includes online education delivery with universities, sustainable transport consulting in London and completing a masters in Finland focusing on digital and sustainability education.