IEMA launches campaign to fill the global environment and sustainability skills gap

3rd November 2014

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  • Skills ,
  • Training


Tim Wroblewski

The global economy is heading towards a skills crisis, a perfect storm of pressure on all fronts.

That is the stark warning from IEMA’s recently launched campaign on bridging the gap in supply and demand for “skills for a sustainable economy”.

Publication of the Institute’s report, Preparing for the perfect storm: skills for a sustainable economy, launched the campaign on 15 October.

It was accompanied by a hard-hitting media release, which stated that by 2020 the world economy could be facing a supply deficit driven by several global mega-trends – such as population growth, increasing demand for natural resources, soaring costs of energy – combined with the impacts of climate change and ecosystem degradation.

IEMA’s core message is that all of these issues are merging to pose significant challenges to the long-term success of business and the global economy.

The campaign highlights for businesses, employers, governments and the media that the transition to a sustainable economy presents significant opportunities that they need to grasp. However, research among almost 900 organisations employing IEMA members found that only 13% of companies are fully confident that they have the skills to successfully compete in the sustainable economy.

At the same time, there is mounting evidence that building a sustainable economy can deliver significant opportunities for business. IEMA’s 2014 sustainable resource management research revealed, for example, that businesses, both small and large, can save money through more efficient use of resources – from £5,000 to more than £1 million a year.

“In the new business world, environment and sustainability can no longer be a bolt on, it needs to be part of businesses’ DNA. IEMA has launched this campaign to shine a light on this issue and catalyse action to address the skills deficit,” said IEMA’s chief executive Tim Balcon.

“Businesses need to urgently turn what is a growing and prevailing list of challenges into opportunities. The most effective way of grasping this opportunity is by ensuring that all businesses have access to a new set of skills – environment and sustainability – to ensure that UK plc and businesses globally can transition and survive in this new economy.”

As part of the campaign to ensure IEMA’s policy call and recommendations resonate across the economy, the Institute has brought together a number of businesses, organisations and individuals to raise awareness. These include companies such as BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, EDF Energy, EY, Wilmott Dixon and Saint-Gobain, and individuals like Jonathon Porritt and Joan Walley MP.

Another central element of the campaign is a proposed “skills framework” for businesses worldwide, which includes the following key actions:

  • Developing skills for leaders to integrate sustainability into long-term decision making.
  • Enhancing skills and capability for environment and sustainability professionals so they can integrate sustainability throughout their organisations and value chains, building in foresight and horizon scanning and creating a convincing business case.
  • Increasing environment and sustainability knowledge and understanding among all workers.
  • Integrating environment and sustainability into the national curriculum, ensuring that young people entering work are able to play their part at the start of their careers.
  • Filling the skills gaps at all levels, from apprenticeships to those in leadership and managerial roles.

As the environmentalist went to press, several media outlets, including BusinessGreen,, Click Green and the Environment Times, were publishing extensive coverage of the campaign launch, and more stories are due in the coming months ahead.

For details of the campaign, download a digital copy of the report and find information on supporters and how your organisation can become involved, visit

Research findings

Preparing for the perfect storm: skills for a sustainable economy was distributed to IEMA members two weeks ahead of the campaign launch in mid-October. It shows that many organisations lack the basic skills to capitalise on the opportunities that a sustainable economy can offer and to guarantee their survival. Key statistics include:

  • Skills to compete – only 13% of companies are fully confident that they have the skills to successfully compete in a sustainable economy.
  • Leadership gap – just 25% of leaders and 20% of senior managers are fully capable of addressing the sustainability agenda.
  • Funding gap – in 72% of organisations, investment in environment and sustainability skills is less than for other disciplines, with 63% of organisations spending less than £100 a head on environment and sustainability training each year.
  • Strategic challenge – 65% of organisations have not carried out a strategic evaluation of the skills needed to successfully compete in a sustainable economy.
  • Recruitment gap – more than half (53%) of organisations surveyed by IEMA are unable to recruit environment and sustainability professionals with the right skills.

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