Companies, cities, counties, states and universities are setting “moonshot” goals in response to unprecedented global attention to the urgent wake-up call for climate and sustainability. We have seen an exceptional change in the magnitude of aspirational targets, but the climate change and sustainability professionals have not evolved at the same rate.
In the past few years, thousands of business leaders, government officials and university presidents have committed their organizations to substantial greenhouse gas emissions reductions, climate action planning and sustainability initiatives. Increasingly, we’re seeing substantial, multi-year goals informed by calls to action from the world’s leading science bodies. Big, long-term goals are no longer the exception — but we don’t really know how we’ll get there.
Yes, we need to aggressively pursue substantial advances in technology, but also substantial advances in the professions that support achieving these aspirations. We need informed, competent — and agile — climate and sustainability professionals that can drive positive forward traction and lead the “unprecedented transformation” that is critically important in the next 10 years.
The scope of our needs and ambition is disproportionate to the workforce’s ability and the authority of the change agents tasked with leading these efforts. If the IPCC report is calling for unprecedented transformation in order to slow climate change, how can we possibly make that happen in the current state of our field of practice?
Elevating our stature
While climate change and sustainability professionals have increased in number and compensation over the past 10 years, isn’t it time that our field took the next evolutionary step into the executive suite? Valutus recently conducted research that found virtually no chief sustainability officers in Fortune 500 companies that actually were designated officers in their companies. ACCO’s examination of CDP responses in 2013 also found no such instances.
In the public sector, the city of Miami Beach is one of only a handful of cities whose resilience officer is actually an assistant city manager. Among the 600-plus signatories of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, the university with an executive leading sustainability or climate change action in both operations and academics is the exception, not the rule. These professions are not where they need to be if we are to achieve these aspirational goals in business, government and academia.
Daniel Kreeger & Jeff Yorzyk
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