Green jobs

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It is common belief that the world of work is changing under the pressure of countless economic and social transformations. One of the most important, from this point of view, is that related to sustainability. In recent years, in fact, an ecological social conscience has emerged which is at the same time permeable to technological transformations, to the point of allowing us to glimpse the possibility of realizing what until a few years ago was considered a sort of “Mission impossible”. of the market economy: sustainable development.

Obviously there is still a long way to go: just think that one of the most well-known environmental indicators, the Overshoot Day (it is a virtual calendar that indicates the day in which humanity has reached – and exceeded – the capacity for regeneration of natural resources of the planet) has brought forward the date to 29 July in 2022. We cannot then forget the demographic growth trends (with an active balance of eighty million people per year throughout the world), the growing demand for energy also by emerging economies (every year we have an increase of around 2, 5%) and, therefore, we cannot ignore how the weight of this human and industrial mass can only impact natural resources. However, we must not ignore how the European Union, from an environmental point of view, has cutting-edge legislation: pursuant to Article 191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, it is explicitly indicated that the fight against climate change is a explicit objective of environmental policy. What does all this mean? That within the framework of economic evolution it is necessary to implement a series of innovations at every level, so that a green conscience finds its way into every decision-making process and becomes a sort of second nature of industrial planning.

From this point of view we can well say that European Union legislation demands very high standards in terms of sustainability and the links are destined to become increasingly tighter in the attempt to comply with the objectives indicated by international treaties. All this brings with it a related effect: that linked to the need to invest in training in order to create widespread environmental awareness, both in the public and private sectors. Green jobs therefore represent an important option also in terms of employment.

And this is why we wanted to interview Elisabetta Marani, founder of The Young Sustainability Network, a global community that supports anyone who wants to build a career in the field of sustainability, through a global network of young professionals in this field and events with experts.

Let’s begin to frame the topic by talking about “sustainable professions”. How are they evolving?

We have had a transformation that I consider physiological. We started from a one person show type scenario, in which all skills were somehow summarized by a single protagonist, to a different vision, in which they are divided among the entire workforce according to the field of application and competence.

To give some practical examples, the financial reporting team must also increasingly deal with ESG (Environmental, social, governance) reporting, the purchasing office will have to keep an eye on CO2 emissions in the supply chain and so on. The objective is to have sustainability managers in all branches, favoring a vision that I would define as holistic. However, for the reasons I have mentioned, I find the idea of a dedicated team much less functional: it would end up being disconnected from other company realities.

Starting from this assumption, can we say that the evolution of regulations means that internal training is preferable to external consultancy?

You typically get the best results with a balance between the two. I would certainly aim mainly at enhancing internal talent because it allows us to develop a culture of corporate sustainability that allows us to achieve our objectives. At the same time, if specific know-how on ad hoc topics is needed, experts can bring added value when needed.

Can we shed some light on three definitions that are often used improperly? I am referring to “green skills”, “green jobs” and “greening jobs”.

Green skills represent a bit of a prerequisite, because they summarize the predisposition, the mindset and also the know-how relating to the sustainable transition of a company. I consider them a bit like the kit through which it is possible to put together general needs and identify the mechanisms that allow the environmental sustainability of the company itself to be improved.

Green jobs are “green jobs” properly so called, such as energy manager or mobility manager. Lastly we have greening jobs, i.e. jobs that until now had not required social or environmental skills because they had a different purpose but which now must also integrate these skills. Let’s think about the packaging designer: today he must also be an expert in recyclable packaging. And this is just one example among many.

Are these the jobs of tomorrow?

Far from it: they are the jobs of today. Even 63% of the needs of businesses and the public sector, which is usually more resistant to new developments, will concern or already concern green jobs. It is precisely the work of the present.

What does a company need to fully embrace the challenge of sustainability?

I think most companies fully understand and appreciate the sustainable business imperative of maximizing positive social impact and minimizing negative environmental impact. There certainly remain economic and technological limits for a green transition but in my opinion the real investment to be made is the one in the human factor, namely talent.

Let me explain: it is not easy to implement such a radical transition if you don’t have the skills to match. A recent LinkedIn survey shows that the demand for green skills is greater than the supply of the workforce. We find ourselves in a situation where we have less supply of people equipped with the necessary skills compared to company needs and this is a significant obstacle in the pursuit of sustainability objectives. This is why I think it is essential to invest in internal talent, who should be trained through specific training. Furthermore, and here I return to what I said at the beginning, it is important that the growth of skills is implemented in parallel in all areas of the company, thus ensuring a correct distribution of the skills themselves.

Isn’t there a risk that by “directing” one’s human resources towards green skills, a vocational aspect will be lost and, therefore, roles of responsibility will be taken on by people who have less motivation?

We must deal with the fact that the future will still require us to develop these skills, so it will be necessary to acquire certain skills if we want to remain within a system that is oriented towards an epochal transition. After that, nothing prevents those employees who feel a particular interest in these topics from studying them in depth and orienting their professional choices accordingly. But it is essential that, above all else, it is clear within companies how it is necessary to update skills, horizontally and vertically.

Who are the figures who currently have the greatest demand in the sustainability field?

Companies today ask to be competent in data management, climate change fundamentals and stakeholder engagement. These skills, when you go for interviews, must be demonstrable and must be underlined when you propose your applications. However, here too I must make a further clarification: if you have a real desire to work in this area you must know how to enhance your ability to learn quickly and to communicate. Learning quickly is of fundamental importance in a world that must be renewed in light of technological evolution and possible regulatory changes. Communication represents a fundamental weapon not only externally but also within the working environment because without clarity and the ability to involve others it is not possible to carry forward projects. But that’s not all: it is necessary to know how to speak to each reality with the language most suited to the corporate role. Finally, I think that one last important point is to approach planning with an active mentality. You don’t just have to commit to the business case. Projects must be continued from the pilot phase to take-off.

What advice can we give to those approaching this reality of green jobs for the first time?

A challenge that I have faced myself and which I continue to witness through the work I carry out with The Young Sustainability Network is the lack of clarity on the different career paths in sustainability and little awareness of the roles that exist, both in the private sector both in the public one.

The first challenge is having difficulty visualizing the type of job that’s right for you, based on your background and skills. Once you enter the network, since it is an emerging field, find a mentor or talk to a sustainability professional: they are all very helpful and there is a lot of solidarity and desire to share your experience in this space.

Secondly, the variety of possible paths means on the one hand being able to be the creator and designing your own career in your own way, and on the other having to accept the uncertainty of the path. For example, I started in the operations team, moved to the CSR function, took care of reporting, and now I’m in the procurement function. Every step has been weighed and thought about, yet I have often wondered about how to shape my career, whether to stay in an industry and specialize in it, whether to change function, whether to prefer horizontal rather than vertical movements, and so on. When it comes to sustainability careers it is difficult to know what the right choice is, you take risks – which in my opinion are worth taking – but it is certainly not a linear and predefined path as it can be for other professions.

We have mentioned what those who want to enter the world of work must do. But don’t those who are already inside risk being cut off from this green revolution?

It is clear that we need to stay professionally up to date but, as I said, in this particular moment the vacancies concern green skills in any background. It has never been as easy to move on to green jobs as it is now and the ability to learn and communicate is getting the better of the search for particular figures. After that, the offer of courses to obtain specializations in this area is very high and therefore it is possible to reinvent one’s corporate role with greater ease than in the past. You should not be intimidated if you do not have an academic background in sustainability: a green career can be facilitated by business needs, as long as you are not shy: the shy will not be the ones to change the world.