What is sustainability and what does a sustainability professional do?

Sustainability in business is a strategy designed to create long-term value by focusing on how a business operates in the context of its ecological, social and economic impact. With increasing awareness of issues such as global warming and a more socially conscious workforce, a strong and transparent sustainability strategy has become necessary for businesses to maintain competitiveness and attract the best talent.

Sustainability professionals have primary responsibility for addressing a company’s sustainability efforts. They will contribute to the development of a company’s sustainability strategy, helping to balance sustainability requirements with commercial realities and will take the lead in developing and executing sustainability initiatives. They help to foster a culture where sustainability is integrated throughout the company, ensure that sustainability efforts contribute positively to business performance and may be asked to formally report on sustainability performance to stakeholders. The demands for financial and non-financial information on sustainability are increasing as are the complexities of the regulatory and compliance requirements and these professionals will have to respond appropriately.

Key responsibilities

Depending on level of seniority, the role may include:

  • Developing a sustainability vision for the company encompassing people, profit and planet.
  • Developing the business case to address sustainability issues.
  • Securing and leveraging senior level commitment and support for integrating sustainable development into core processes and decision-making.
  • Building sustainability principles into short and long-range business planning, capital planning and operations planning.
  • Identifying and prioritising areas for sustainability efforts and recommending strategies for proactively addressing relevant sustainability issues.
  • Evaluating and approving proposals for sustainability projects, considering factors such as cost effectiveness, technical feasibility and integration with other initiatives.
  • Ensuring appropriate internal controls and measurement systems are in place to support sustainability efforts.
  • Measuring & monitoring progress against sustainability strategies, objectives and performance targets.
  • Fostering a culture of sustainability through ongoing organisational communications and education.
  • Acting as the “go to” expert for sustainability, monitoring emerging trends, programs and issues and communicating and educating others on sustainability topics.
  • Developing sustainability reports, presentations or proposals for supplier, employee, academia, media, government, public interest or other groups.
  • Creating and implementing communication strategies to publicise the company’s sustainability effort.
  • Delivering all legal compliance and due diligence requirements.

Why are they important?

As the expectations on corporate responsibility increase, governments and the private sector have recognised the need for a structured approach to sustainability. Professionals in this field are key to developing and executing effective sustainability strategies and have become an essential link between the organisation, its stakeholders, regulatory bodies and an increasingly socially conscious workforce. They promote environmental protection, social responsibility and profitability and help re-enforce a positive image about the company both internally and to the wider public.

Skills needed for this role

Sustainability and compliance specialists will need to be both analytical and creative. They should have excellent project management, organisational and planning skills, allowing them to manage multiple tasks and assess priorities effectively. Strong communication and interpersonal skills are essential as this role will be required to manage and influence stakeholders, including colleagues at all levels

Strategic Professional Options examinations linked to this role

Advanced Performance Management

Career opportunities presented by this role:

Sustainability is a growing field and there are an increasing number of roles in this area. These professionals can work for specialist consulting firm, or as an independent consultant, however, organisations are increasingly employing specialists directly. The most senior role attainable in this field is head/director of sustainability and compliance.

Competencies

High level competencies required include:

  • Advisory and consultancy

    A. Gathers and understands financial and non-financial information to develop complete knowledge of the client business and the environment in which it operates.

    B. Provides expert advice that will add value to the business and gain advantage.

    C. Identify and advise on business partnering to develop strategic relationships to create opportunities, improve performance and solve business problems.

    D. Prepare and present business plans and advise on the actions to implement these plans.

  • Corporate and business reporting

    A. Prepares financial statements, corporate financial and integrated reports for external stakeholders using appropriate technology.

    B. Leads effective decision making through analysing, evaluating and communicating performance and position of entities.

    C. Prepares financial statements for groups of entities using appropriate technologies.

    D. Monitors, critically evaluates, and advises on the relevant accounting standards, regulations, conceptual and financial reporting frameworks.

     

  • Leadership and management

    A. Applies appropriate leadership strategies to effectively deliver business objectives.

    B. Leads, motivates and manages people to optimise performance and effectiveness.

    C. Collaborates, supports and works to achieve the objectives of the organisation, applying appropriate digital technologies.

    D. Acts proactively and thinks strategically, in anticipating organisational needs, recognising the wider business environment and dynamics.

     

  • Management accounting

    A. Applies development and performance management, in the wider business and technological environment, within the context of strategic planning and implementation.

    B. Directs organisational performance through the selection and measurement of financial and non-financial performance indicators.

    C. Collaborates on the key tactical and organisational areas of budgeting and control, capital investments, people and resource management.

    D. Consults on the design and use of current and emerging technology and information systems to improve strategic decision-making and organisational performance.

     

     

  • Stakeholder relationship management

    A. Positively develops relationships with internal and external stakeholders.

    B. Communicates and gains commitment from internal and external stakeholder.

    C. Uses emerging technologies to collaborate and communicate effectively with stakeholders.

    D. Applies professional and ethical judgement when engaging with stakeholders.

    E. Aligns organisational strategic objectives with stakeholder needs and manages expectations.
     

  • Strategy and Innovation

    A. Applies business acumen and commercial awareness to deliver business objectives.

    B. Recommends a range of suitable strategic options from which to develop sustainable plans and objectives.

    C. Evaluates, justifies and implements suitable strategic options.

    D. Adopts and applies innovative methods to implement strategy and manages change.