IEMA guests on Guardian blog

11th November 2011

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IEMA has begun contributing to the Guardian Sustainable Business blog, discussing the important skills environmental professionals bring to UK businesses

IEMA’s work with members, business leaders, training organisations and recruitment companies places it in a unique position to gauge the perception and presence of environmental skills and knowledge in UK businesses.

Because of this, and coupled with the recent launch of the Institute’s environmental skills map for the profession, the Guardian newspaper’s online Sustainable Business blog has asked IEMA’s director of membership services Claire Lea to contribute a monthly blog, detailing the Institute’s findings from research and feeding back what businesses tell us about what they need in the form of environmental skills.

The first of the blogs was published on 25 October, but here we reproduce Claire’s thoughts on sustainability and its associated opportunities through environmental skills and knowledge.

Opportunities beyond compliance

Business sustainability issues are well documented and in these challenging economic times it may be hard to justify investment in the development of any skills, let alone investment in green ones. But now is the perfect time.

Using green skills in your organisation will enable you to identify efficiency savings and cost reductions in the short term. In the mid to long term, investing in green skills will secure long-term business viability through effective risk management and the identification of new business opportunities.

While it is encouraging to see senior sustainability roles on boards and the appointment of chief sustainability officers and directors, for many organisations environmental sustainability remains an operational, compliance-based problem. There is still considerable work to do to change this mindset.

The need to address business sustainability issues at a strategic level requires high-calibre, high-performing people with the right knowledge and skills.

IEMA’s research in summer 2011 highlighted that individuals are coming to these roles from a whole range of different backgrounds – the career changers (more than one-third of research participants) gained their crucial environment knowledge through formal training, coupling this with existing management and leadership skills.

However, reflecting on the research into low-carbon, green or environmental sustainability jobs and skills over the past three years, I’m left thinking that there are still opportunities for us to do more to highlight the real value that environmental sustainability skills can and do bring to an organisation.

A great deal of research into skills focuses on the knowledge and abilities needed to deploy environmental technologies, rather than the skills required to embed sustainability in businesses.

Action is needed to ensure that more organisations recognise the importance of environmental sustainability issues across the value chain.

Furthermore, the need for senior people with strategic-level skills coupled with the ability to look through a green lens across the whole organisation is of paramount importance.

One thing that has been missing is clarity about just what knowledge and skills are needed in environmental sustainability roles. Sustainability is relevant to those starting their careers – the potential CEOs of the future – right through to those in leadership roles now.

How do we ensure that graduates and others entering employment today develop the right knowledge and skills to become effective sustainability leaders of the future?

In response to that question IEMA set out the knowledge and skills required by environment professionals at different levels in organisations, including those in leadership positions, in its environmental skills map, published in June.

An individual’s abilities to effectively lead, engage, influence, communicate, plan, implement and deliver are core skills. What makes such individuals different – something that is not always easy to capture in formal frameworks – is their ability to use their knowledge and skills to work across organisations.

They take the complexity of environmental sustainability issues and provide clarity about how the business should respond to the sustainability agenda to deliver long-term success; this skill is invaluable to business.

Those businesses that have recognised this will surely have the competitive advantage and will be able to harness innovative thinking as environmental constraints take centre stage.

Members are invited to add their thoughts by commenting on Claire’s blog online. While you are visiting, why not sign up to become a member of Guardian Sustainable Business?

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