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The state of sustainability jobs in a post-COP21 world

What does people power look like following the Paris Agreement?

I’ve been thinking about the relationship between COP21 and the sustainability jobs market. COP21 has been covered extensively here at GreenBiz and other publications, but there’s been little discussion of how it might affect the outlook for sustainability professionals going forward.

Let’s not overlook the people power, the sheer person-hours that made COP21 happen and will be needed to make true on the commitments.

The road to Paris required a plethora of sustainability-focused professionals increasingly in demand prepping for Paris and working while there — this included advocacy groups, organizations planning the event, and even some CSR departments beefing up sustainability departments in anticipation of new commitments.

Many people who made COP21 happen will be looking for new work.

Just like policy makers, the private sector was keenly interested in substantive outcomes in Paris. I think the We Mean Business Coalition, a group organizing company COP21 commitments by everyone from Coca Cola to Walmart, said it well on its website:

"The goal is to ensure that the new climate agreement reached in Paris is more than just a diplomatic settlement between governments but actually becomes a catalytic instrument for business leadership on climate action."

Now that COP21 has come and gone, what will this business leadership look like, and how will the corporate sustainability job market respond?


My prediction for 2016 is that the people who made COP21 happen will be looking for new work now that the meeting is over.  

And new jobs will be created to make true on the commitments. In the corporate sector, the commitments laid out by We Mean Business  translate directly to new jobs. Here are a few examples of positions that will develop directly from those We Mean Business commitments.

  • Reporting and dashboards — reporting climate change information in mainstream reports

  • Climate policy — corporate engagement in climate policy

  • Energy procurement — procure electricity from 100 percent renewables

  • Stakeholder engagement — via participation in the Low Carbon Technology Partnership

  • Research — imagine where Bill Gates' billions will go

What others are saying

I surveyed some sustainability experts on COP21’s impact on CSR jobs and received some interesting answers. In general, the expectation is clear: This global deal will make more positions available.

Coro Strandberg, Strandberg Consulting

Coro does not see the preCOP and postCOP jobs as black-and-white.

"No jobs will be lost as a result of COP21 and more will be gained! Regardless of the deal reached, negotiations, lobbying and monitoring will continue. New jobs include green finance, green infrastructure, climate change adaptation, environmental risk management, clean technology, energy efficiency, energy management, renewable energy, green buildings, green retrofits, environmental engineering, green product design, green supply chain management, behavioral specialists — the list goes on."

John Davies, GreenBiz

"The impact of COP21 on the sustainability jobs market will primarily be positive. It won’t be so much because of the country commitments but because there are a number of aggressive companies doubling down on their efforts to support those commitments. Companies like Google and Unilever and Campbell’s are starting to raise the bar for laggards in their industries. And those laggards will need to hire to become more competitive."

Mark Lee, SustainAbility

“At this point I believe Paris will produce tangible, actionable outcomes even in the absence of a binding agreement. This means there will be huge amounts of work to do to implement and maintain momentum on what's been committed. This should provide significant job opportunities in both the public and private sectors.”

The in or the out?

One final thought on these new jobs. I have noticed a trend of companies finding their resources via external solution providers as opposed to internal headcount. Thus I leave you with a question: Will these new jobs be filled internally, or will companies use hiring firms (with their dashboarding data, communications, policy, research and strategy) to meet these needs?

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