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Need sustainability strategy training? Look here

If you’ve been tasked with developing or managing your company’s sustainability strategy, but don’t yet have the expertise, this article is for you.

Chess pieces with one gold queen still standing

Image via Shutterstock/PowerUp

Editor’s note: This is part of a series on closing the sustainability skills gap with the resources we have available right now.

The first two articles in this series, "Climate Literacy Training for Every Budget" and "10 Resources for Scaling Corporate Climate Literacy," cited employee climate literacy training options and provided an overview of solutions designed to help businesses scale employee engagement around climate change. Today’s installment focuses on training for individuals who have been tasked with developing or managing the organization’s sustainability strategy but may not yet have sustainability expertise.

If you find yourself in that category, you are not alone. Microsoft’s 2022 report, "Closing the Sustainability Skills Gap," surveyed 15 large corporations from a variety of sectors that had set and are pursuing ambitious climate goals and found that 68 percent of the employees on the sustainability teams at these organizations were talented insiders who had no prior experience or training in sustainability. They were brought into the role because they had the core transformational and functional skill sets needed to create change. In addition, 40 percent of the people on these teams had only three or fewer years of sustainability experience.

This makes a lot of sense, as Joel Makower discussed in his article "Inside the war for ESG talent." The market for professionals with environment, social and governance (ESG) and sustainability experience has been highly competitive over the past few years. As a result, many companies and consulting firms have had to fill open roles with candidates who have the key qualities for success in this type of work (such as knowing the core business or being adaptive, systems thinkers) and then train them on sustainability.

It's incredibly difficult to develop a company-wide strategy for a discipline that you’ve had no exposure to, so if you find yourself among the large number of talented individuals who could use some training to help you bring context, structure and rigor to your process, read on.

Every organization’s sustainability journey is a little different, and that’s reflected in the different training offerings listed below. Some offer sustainability programs, others focus on ESG, and some approach it using the lens of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. The common thread here is that these trainings are all designed to help you learn how to develop a strategy for sustainable change in your organization.

Unlike the climate literacy training discussed in previous articles, most of these sustainability training options require fairly significant time and financial commitments. That’s to be expected for a topic that will affect virtually every area of your business and cover everything from stakeholder engagement to technical solutions to financing. These offerings run the gamut from self-directed on-line learning at your own pace to structured university certificate programs.

As is often the case with these types of lists, I’m sure I've missed some. If I've missed your favorite offering, I warmly invite you to join the conversation on LinkedIn to tell me and your fellow readers about it. Thanks in advance for your help with bringing these resources out into the open so that more people can get to work on advancing sustainable business practices.

On-demand online training

These offerings are available online 24/7, which means you can start and stop as needed, and you’re not required to be available for live sessions at specific times. These are the most flexible options for busy working professionals.

Sustainability Leadership Workshop and Climate Bootcamp from EcoActUs, in partnership with the Climate Reality Project and Harvard Alumni for Climate and the Environment

This course guides participants through the process of developing a sustainability strategy for their organization. Participants may join optional live sessions to review their strategy with others. 

  • Cost: Free
  • Time to complete: 7.5 hours if auditing, 12.5 hours if a certificate of completion is desired
  • Training format: On-demand video, reading, optional live component
  • Key topics covered: The climate crisis; strategies for action; transportation; built environment; energy use; circular value chain; food and ecosystems; building the business case for ESG; stakeholder mobilization; organizational transformation; identifying sustainability opportunities

SDG Leadership Training Series from the UN Global Compact Academy

  • Cost: Free to all employees of the 7,700-plus member companies of the U.N. Global Compact, check to see if your organization is a member
  • Time to complete: About 7 hours spread across 6 courses
  • Training format: On-demand video, quizzes
  • Key topics covered: How to prioritize bold action for the SDGs; how to set and integrate ambitious corporate targets and accelerate implementation of the 17 SDGs; managing corporate sustainability performance through the SDG Action Manager

Impact Measurement and Management for the SDGs from Duke University in partnership with the UN Development Programme SDG Impact on Coursera

  • Cost: Included with paid subscription to Coursera Plus, $59/month or $399/year
  • Time to complete: 9 hours
  • Training format: On-demand video, reading, quizzes
  • Key topics covered: Setting strategy; how to identify material issues and target SDG outcomes; measuring SDG impact, including setting performance targets, choosing indicators and developing a tracking process; analyzing data to improve performance; disclosing performance

Become a Sustainable Business Change Agent Specialization from the University of Colorado on Coursera

  • Cost: Included with paid subscription to Coursera Plus, $59/month or $399/year
  • Time to complete: 40 hours across four courses
  • Training format: On-demand video, assignments
  • Key topics covered: Writing an effective proposal; financial analysis and sustainable thinking; implementing change; sustainability reporting; carbon footprinting; sustainability and science-based targets; water; workplace sustainability issues; supply chain impacts

Sustainability Excellence Associate (SEA) Study Guide from the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP)

This one isn’t a training per se, but the ISSP SEA study guide provides in-depth descriptions of the foundational concepts, terminology and strategies needed to pursue sustainability in an organization or business, and it’s a helpful guide regardless whether you plan to take the SEA exam.

  • Cost: $75 for ISSP members and $150 for nonmembers
  • Time to complete: Varies
  • Training format: Reading
  • Key topics covered: Frameworks and principles; benefits of sustainability practices; historical background and events; global institutions, policies and initiatives; regulatory trends and policies; standards, protocols and certifications; technology, tools, and innovations

Asynchronous online training

GetSmarter is a learning platform that delivers online short courses from the world’s leading universities in partnership with edX. Participants receive weekly learning materials and assignments to complete within the week on their own schedule and can access their learning team and classmates via the Online Campus. Some courses also offer live, online interaction options with professors, tutors or classmates. While this option offers a lot of flexibility, all GetSmarter courses have specific start dates and assignment due dates. That means there are some time-sensitive components to the experience.  

Business Sustainability Management from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership

  • Next start date: July 23
  • Cost: $2,698
  • Time to complete: 8 weeks plus orientation, 8 to 12 hours per week
  • Training format: On-demand videos, reading and assignments to be completed on a weekly basis
  • Key topics covered: Challenges and opportunities; the business case for sustainability; regulatory environment and policy; production and consumption; design, technology and planning for sustainability; communications and marketing; collaboration and partnerships; rewiring your business approach

Business Sustainability Strategy: Technology and Management from MIT Sloan School of Management

  • Next start date: May 17, the following class will likely begin in July
  • Cost: $2,800
  • Time to complete: 6 weeks plus orientation, 6 to 8 hours per week
  • Training format: On-demand videos, reading and assignments to be completed on a weekly basis
  • Key topics covered: World challenges: environment, inequality, poverty and social well-being; managing for sustainability; tensions, trade-offs and impact; changing the rules of the game; management for the 21st century: agents of change

Corporate Sustainability Management: Risk, Profit, and Purpose from the Yale School of Management

  • Next start date: May 17, the following class will likely begin in July
  • Cost: $2,800
  • Time to complete: 6 weeks plus orientation, 8 to 10 hours per week
  • Training format: On-demand videos, reading and assignments to be completed on a weekly basis
  • Key topics covered: The business imperative for sustainability; multistakeholder risk assessment; valuing sustainability risks and opportunities; integrating sustainability into business strategy; building your sustainability tool kit; implementing a sustainability program

Oxford Leading Sustainable Corporations Programme from the University of Oxford Said Business School

  • Next start date: May 17, the following class will likely begin in July
  • Cost: $2,330
  • Time to complete: 6 weeks plus orientation, 7 to 10 hours per week
  • Training format: On-demand videos, reading and assignments to be completed on a weekly basis
  • Key topics covered: Corporate purpose and value creation; responding to climate change; natural capital and resource management; social sustainability; ensuring sustainability: governance, risk, and reporting; levers of change

Live online training from universities

Many universities offer fully online courses and certificates that don’t require enrollment in a degree program. Most of these offerings involve weekly live online class sessions or opportunities for live online engagement with the professor and classmates. Because of the live components, these experiences are time sensitive and only available when the university is running the course.

Building a Sustainable Organization: Challenges, Opportunities, and Strategies from the Harvard Professional Development Program

  • Next start date: June 8
  • Cost: $2,600
  • Time to complete: 4 weeks, about 3.5 hours per week
  • Training format: Live online classes
  • Key topics covered: Creating a purpose driven organization; collaborating creatively with stakeholder organizations; sustainability frameworks and tools; setting goals and benchmarking related to sustainability; stakeholders and addressing risk; crafting your sustainability vision

Corporate Sustainability Certificate from Cornell University

  • Next start date: July 5
  • Cost: $2,730
  • Time to complete: 10 weeks, 3 to 5 hours per week
  • Training format: Live online classes, assignments
  • Key topics covered: Evaluating a corporate sustainability strategy; sustainability risk management; generating profit in the era of sustainability

Corporate Sustainability from New York University’s Stern School of Business

  • Next start date: Aug. 28
  • Cost: $1,936 with discounts for early bird registrants
  • Time to complete: About 8 to 10 hours/week for 16 weeks
  • Training format: On-demand videos, reading, assignments, live online meetups with the professor and classmates
  • Key topics covered: Reporting and certification standards; materiality and stakeholder mapping; supply chains; the circular economy; innovation; customers, employees and sustainability; monetizing the sustainability ROI; sustainable finance; ESG investing; net positive future

Certificate in Environmental, Social and Governance Strategy from the University of Colorado Boulder Leeds School of Business

  • Next start date: Aug. 29
  • Cost: $2,500
  • Time to complete: 16 weeks, 2 hours of live class and 4 to 5 hours of work each week
  • Training format: Live online classes, assignments
  • Key topics covered: ESG strategy models; diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI); human rights; supply chain; U.N. SDGs; community and employee engagement; creating a CSR budget; reporting (Global Reporting Initiative, Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures [TCFD], Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, and CDP); B Corps; marketing and storytelling; regulation, governance and policy advocacy

Certificate in Sustainability Strategy from Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability and W.P. Carey School of Business

  • Next start date: Sept. 9
  • Cost: $2,495
  • Time to complete: 6 weeks, 3 to 4 hours per week
  • Training format: On-demand videos, live online classes
  • Key topics covered: Global context to organizational practice; sustainability leadership impact; storytelling for sustainability impact; making the business case for investments in sustainability; sustainability strategy

Live online training from professional training organizations

These offerings from professional training organizations are fully virtual but they each include live components, so these experiences are time-sensitive and only available when the provider is running the course.

OnePointFive Academy: Sustainability Consulting Accelerator from OnePointFive

This experience provides training for aspiring corporate sustainability consultants, but the core content around sustainability strategy setting, measurement, investing and decarbonization is relevant to both in-house and consulting professionals

  • Next start date: July 17
  • Cost: $1,190
  • Time to complete: 6 weeks, 3 to 5 hours per week
  • Training format: Live online classes, projects, and speakers
  • Key topics covered: Climate strategy, targets and goals; measurement and analysis of organizational and product sustainability; reporting, disclosures, KPIs and metrics; climate investment principles and decarbonization strategies; sustainability consulting 101

Certified Sustainability (ESG) Practitioner Program from the Center for Sustainability and Excellence

  • Next start date: Sept. 21
  • Cost: $1,490
  • Time to complete: Three half-days
  • Training format: Live online classes, reading, assignments, completion of a project
  • Key topics covered: The business case; global and local legislation; sustainability strategy; standards and ratings; reporting; responsible communication; supply chain; scope 3, TCFD, net-zero; circular economy; carbon reduction strategies

Strategic ESG: Creating Sustainable Value Professional Certificate Program from WholeWorks in partnership with GreenBiz

This experience includes a realistic 10-year business simulation in which participants develop and execute ESG strategies that demonstrate impact on a company’s financial, environmental and social performance. Participants apply learnings to develop a specific project for their organization, for which they receive expert coaching and peer review.

  • Next start date: Oct. 2; register by Sept. 22
  • Cost: Use discount code GRNBZ at registration for a special reduced price of $1,950
  • Time to complete: About 6 hours/week for 6 weeks
  • Training format: On-demand videos, live virtual simulation sessions, completion of a project plan
  • Key topics covered: Integration of material ESG issues into business strategy including GHG emissions, clean energy, biodiversity, resilient supply chains, responsible marketing, circular economy, water preservation, waste reduction, DEI; sustainable product development and production; reporting frameworks and emerging requirements for disclosure

Corporate Sustainability Leadership from

  • Next start date: None listed, but interested learners can join the waitlist
  • Cost: $999
  • Time to complete: 6 weeks, 5 hours per week
  • Training format: Live online group sessions, completion of a project
  • Topics covered: The business case for sustainability; understanding your value chain impacts; internal stakeholder engagement; sustainability ambitions, strategy and targets; embedding sustainability into your business; sustainability reporting, communications and storytelling

Join the conversation

I hope this article helped you find at least one new resource to help you develop or improve your organization’s sustainability strategy. Be sure to keep an eye out for future articles in this series which will focus on additional training needs of the sustainability team and the needs of functional business partners.

Remember: If I’ve missed one of your favorites or if you want to tell me about a resource that could be relevant to a future article, please join the conversation on LinkedIn. Until next time. 

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