catalina estate satterly development environmental excellence udia wa 2022 awards
Catalina Estate by Satterley, Finalist in the Environmental Excellence category at the UDIA WA 2022 Awards for Excellence.
  • Sustainability is complex, varying between industries and organisations
  • Getting ESG right "... could be the difference between reputational risk or displaying leadership with meaningful ESG actions.”
  • Experts said given the current skills shortages, organisations may benefit from upskilling existing staff so they can remain competitive in this space long term.

Proving to be more than just a passing catchphrase, Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) is becoming integral to the way businesses operate and attract investment on a global scale.

According to the Green Building Council of Australia’s (GBCA) Elham Monavari, ESG issues are becoming increasingly important for today’s businesses.

“Much more than a tick-the-box exercise, environmental, social and governance activities are under the increasing scrutiny of investors and boards and can impact bottom lines,” Ms Monavari said.

Enter the rise of the ESG experts and Sustainability Officers who are taking their place in the top managerial ranks of many organisations who are committed to the delivery and implementation of best practice ESG strategy.

“ESG decisions can also impact communities and the planet, so it’s crucial that companies engage qualified experts who are able to tailor a strategy that fits with organisational goals while providing value for stakeholders,” Ms Monavari says.

“Getting this right could be the difference between reputational risk or displaying leadership with meaningful ESG actions.”

According to Russell Reynolds Associates Leadership Advisor Matt Guthridge, sustainability is an incredibly complex area, and the issues and opportunities it can present differ between industries and organisations.

ESG experts help an organisation’s board and management team to intelligently chart their own course towards sustainability.

“Many investors and other key stakeholders now have a sophisticated understanding of ESG and sustainability issues,” Dr Guthridge said.

“Without access to the right expertise, businesses risk relegating sustainability to the level of compliance; this can result in a commitment to a process that, at best, fails to demonstrate genuine understanding or, at worst, is unfeasible.”

Matt Guthridge leadership advisor russell reynolds associates
Sustainability is an incredibly complex area, and the issues and opportunities it can present differ between industries and organisations. Image: Matt Guthridge.

Given the increasing importance of finding the right people to fill these roles, there are many recruitment agencies now specializing in hiring suitably qualified candidates.

Well known recruitment agency Hays is one of those companies that are helping employers look for sustainability talent across the green spectrum, including buildings, infrastructure, renewables, water and waste, environmental, corporate and ESG.

“Talented ESG and sustainability professionals can harmonise environmental, social and economic priorities to deliver sustainability plans that lead to genuine action,” Chris Kent, Executive Director of Sustainability at Hays says.

“They move carbon reduction plans from the page to reality. They help craft a sustainable culture, build a sustainable workforce and ensure a clear and sustained commitment to a green transition.”

While the demand is there for this kind of talent, Mr Kent warns there is a chronic shortage of green talent with the skills required to deliver a more sustainable future.

“Demand for green skills is rising, but the workforce isn’t upskilling quickly enough to keep up with demand. The key reason is that these are new skills, which take time to develop,” Mr Kent said.

“As a result, right now all employers who are hiring in this space are competing for a small but vital pool of candidates. With new sustainability jobs expected, the competition for these candidates is only going to intensify,” Mr Kent said.

Chris Kent executive director of sustainability hays
Green skills aren’t keeping up with the demand for the skill set. Image: Chris Kent.

Dr Guthridge agrees, advising that the current skills shortage is further impacting organisations’ ability to fill these types of roles.

“In the past, Australia has been able to attract sustainability talent from other markets around the world. However, international mobility has slowed since the pandemic began,” Dr Guthridge said.

There is also the issue of ‘greenwashing’ and whether this is intentional, or a result of trying to rush to formalise accountability in relation to ESG, Dr Guthridge says that this can lead to organisations becoming overly formulaic in their responses.

“Navigating the intricacies of sustainability requires specialised knowledge and experience, which few organisations have access to,” Dr Guthridge said.

“While some companies obtain this advice from external experts, others choose executives to ‘double hat’ in the role of sustainability.

“Strategy, risk and even HR roles are the most common homes for sustainability within large corporates, but these executives often lack the requisite expertise,” Dr Guthridge said.

Mr Kent adds that given the current skills shortages; organisations may also benefit from investing in upskilling existing staff so they can remain competitive in this space long term.

When seeking to fill ESG and Sustainability related management roles, there is a range of criteria that a suitably qualified candidate should ideally have.

“Sustainability and ESG-focused functions play a critical role in embedding a new lens for assessing and transforming company strategy, operations and culture. But not everyone has what it takes to succeed in this role,” Dr Guthridge says.

Russel Reynolds Associates recently partnered with the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) to highlight the importance of strong leadership from CEOs and boards in driving sustainable change.

The report, entitled Leadership for the Decade of Action set out to answer the key question: how can organisations make sustainability core to the DNA of their leadership teams?

Interestingly one of the initial findings of the research was that companies are not yet prioritising sustainability in what they look for in senior leaders.

Despite changing stakeholder perceptions and highly visible commitments to become more sustainable, companies are not yet embedding sustainability into their leadership frameworks – in only 4% of role specifications was sustainability experience or mindset a requirement.

Dr Guthridge says that the research also revealed that sustainable leaders demonstrate four critical capabilities: multi-level systems thinking, stakeholder inclusion, disruptive innovation and a long-term focus on concerted action and investments.

“Ideally, every executive and non-executive will be a sustainable leader. Executives in dedicated ESG or sustainability roles must embody these four capabilities and have the required functional expertise to lead companies on their sustainability journey,” Dr Guthridge said.

Both Dr Guthridge and Mr Kent agree that it is critical that these types of roles are part of the Executive Team or at least report directly to them.

“Having the sustainability role report into senior leadership ensures sustainability is a key pillar of an organisation’s culture,” Mr Kent said.

“As with any significant initiative or change management project, leaders should set the tone and put sustainability on the strategic agenda, with actions that demonstrate the importance of embedding better ways of working across the organisation.

“The sustainability role can advise, monitor and report progress frequently. Together with senior executives, they can move from intention to action by planning, implementing and refining a sustainable strategy.

“Without senior execs and sustainability working together, an organisation is at risk of paying lip service to sustainability. But by working closely together, senior execs and sustainability talent can create authentic, meaningful change.”

The writing is on the wall. Organisations are no longer solely being judged on profit margins and returns.  Their ability to adapt and meaningfully respond to challenges including climate change, the consumption of natural resources, changing societal values, and economic and political instability is increasingly in the spotlight.

The question is, what is your organisation doing to meet these expectations?


The UDIA’s National Congress will be held between 27 and 29 March this year, with more details available on the UDIA National Congress website.

This story was originally published in The Urbanist magazine, an official publication of the Urban Development Institute of Australia (WA). It has been edited for republication by The Property Tribune. 

The Property Tribune thanks the UDIA WA for the opportunity to republish the work, and share thought leadership in relation to urban development and community creation with our readers.

Read the original copy of The Urbanist by heading to UDIA WA’s website under the News tab.

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