There’s good news, more good news and a little bad news.
The seventh biannual State of the Profession (SOTP) report, organized by GreenBiz and sponsored by Weinreb Group, paints a mostly rosy picture for sustainability and ESG professionals. Termed "The Great Reshuffle," the survey data show an abundance of "increases" over the past two years: an increase in salaries; an increase in commitments to reduce GHG emissions; and an increase in CEO engagement in ESG.
As a recruiter who has been tracking the sustainability career space for more than 15 years, I’m heartened by the progress, and I want to dig beneath the data and share three trends and what they mean to the field.
1. Salaries continue to rise
The SOTP report covers salaries for three levels of sustainability professionals — manager, directors and vice presidents — all of which increased over the past two years, although more significantly for people at higher levels.
More than 80 percent of the people we surveyed received a raise, and new hires have gotten the biggest salary boosts. Starting salaries for managers who have three or fewer years of experience have jumped from $109,000 in 2019 to $126,000 today. On the other end of the spectrum, higher-level executives have seen their compensation outside base salary grow; bonuses and shares comprise a larger percentage of their total compensation.
Broadly, this paints a picture of prosperity. Coupled with overall budget increases for sustainability, it indicates recognition of the increased importance of sustainability within companies. This also reflects what I see in my work as a recruiter — with a growing number of candidates getting multiple offers and receiving big salary boosts, and companies putting together bigger and better total compensation packages for executives.
2. Sustainability jobs in reporting and net zero are hot-hot-hot
As I recently shared with a reporter at Insider, the demand for ESG and sustainability expertise is outpacing the market. The SOTP report gives this notion further legs: The "green hiring rate" accelerated ahead of the overall hiring rate in the U.S. and globally. While 76 percent of respondents increased their organizational headcount, with the same number noting an overall increase in their budgets, it also shows we do not currently have enough skilled people for some jobs available.
The most sought-after skills I see are net-zero strategists (including Scope 3 experience) and reporting experience. Weinreb Group tends to fill "head of" or "senior-most" roles, plus a rounding out/completing of teams. The specific skillset around net zero and reporting can either be the entire role ("Director of Net Zero") or it can be included as a responsibility for the head of sustainability (someone with the CSO, VP or SVP title).
As I wrote in the SOTP, reporting used to be "0.5 FTE," or half of a person’s full-time employment. This person would write an ESG report for about half the year and fulfill other responsibilities for the other half. Today, at least two people are likely managing ESG reporting year-round: one on the communications/storytelling side, another on the data/dashboard side.
From what I see, an increasing number of these jobs report to investor relations — either directly or via dotted line. This is good news: Shareholders driving change gets the ear of the CEO very quickly.
3. Restless employees + bigger salary opportunities = jumpy job market
For the first time, the SOTP survey asked questions about job movement and found that more than a quarter of VP-level executives had changed jobs during the pandemic. That’s a significant number. I have noticed this trend in my work as well, with more employees moving after a shorter period of time.
It’s likely this is due, in part, to the first trend: New employees are being offered more money, giving people an incentive to leave for a new role. It’s also related to the pandemic and the realization that work can be done from anywhere. An increasing number of people are looking for flexibility. As I have written previously about the Great Resignation, employees are moving to employers that give them the ideal set-up when it comes to salary, flexibility and remote work or work-from-anywhere.
This is where the tricky part comes in: If people are jumping from job to job more frequently, it will be hard for companies to make serious progress on their commitments. Sustainability is urgent, challenging work that depends on cohesive teams with longevity — a.k.a. commitment from talented people.
I have no doubt sustainability will continue to grow as a profession, and I am actively engaged in helping fill the pipeline with younger and more diverse professionals, while also helping my clients find — and keep — experienced professionals.
I do believe, however, that the gold rush we’re in right now will abate over the next few years as jobs become more defined and the pipeline of talent expands. I’ve said this again and again: Find a job you love, and it won’t feel like work. I know that’s true for me.