Environmental markets thrive despite economic dip

The economy is going down the tubes, companies are tightening the purse strings, and people are being laid off left, right and centre. It is a perilous job market out there.

There are, however, some bright spots amid the doom and gloom. Environmental markets are thriving as the world wakes up to the accelerating problems of climate change, the depletion of natural resources, water shortages and growing mountains of waste.

As the industry grows, opportunities are proliferating and salaries improving. Added to which there is a lack of skilled workers entering the sector.

Claire Skinner, managing director of environmental headhunters Ruston WHEB, says: “There is a massive shortage of really good CEOs for environmental technology companies. That’s why we’re seeing a number of individuals coming from related markets into this sector.

“There is a real requirement for people who have grown technology businesses quickly, so that is attracting people out of mobile telecommunications, semiconductors, optical fibres; someone who can take a concept through to manufacturing, and then to a global market.”

The industry could also provide a home for financial services specialists who have recently found themselves out of a job.

Ms Skinner said: “For investment management roles, people who have a genuine track record and understanding of the regulatory and financing risks associated across the board are at a premium. As other areas are dropping off, people are looking for areas of growth. Climate change, alongside distressed debt, continues to be one of the key growth areas.”

The current shortage of skilled workers is such that it is holding the market back.

Tom Whitehouse, chief executive of green communications company Carbon International, says: “It’s one of the overlooked obstacles to the development of the environmental economy. People talk about finance, policy framework, but a lack of good staff is up there among them.

“Environmental markets are still a relatively new sector, so there are very few people out there who know their anaerobic digestion from plasma gasification. And because it is growing at such a rate there’s no skill set that is not required, from accountants, to public relations, to engineers.”

Mr Whitehouse is fighting to hire at the same rate the company is growing, and says a number of his clients are in the same position. “A lot of companies in the sector are in a state of growth shock.

They’ve been struggling and struggling away, and then suddenly their product gets recognised, they are in huge demand and they have to shift into another gear.”

Consultancies like his can act as informal headhunters, passing CVs on to clients and associates.

But is the sector’s growth sustainable in the face of a global economic downturn? Ms Skinner said: “With any early-stage market there are going to be bumps. We are going to see some tightening of valuations now that the IPO and investment routes are trickier. There is a touch more realism in the market.”

Several companies have chosen not to go public amid the market turmoil, and instead are raising more money from private equity and venture capital firms. “They are going in different ways,” said Ms Skinner.

“They don’t need to strengthen the non-executives as much as they needed before. But VCs are not cuddly; they still need people who can drive revenue.”

Ultimately the industry will weather the storm. Mr Whitehouse said: “The environmental sector has gone well beyond the stage where it was about recycled toilet paper. It’s about fundamental long-term economic drivers.

“Climate change is obviously one, but then if you talk about resource scarcity and environmental regulation these are global drivers. It’s as big a factor in China as it is in Surrey.”

Jo Morley, Carbon International

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