Incompetent executives risk undermining net-zero delivery, sustainability professionals warn

When asked to name their top three internal barriers preventing their organisation from developing and actioning a strong net-zero strategy, 33% of the 40 UK-based chief sustainability officers polled by EY cited incompetent boards.

This was slightly higher than the global average of 31%; EY also polled more than 450 other chief sustainability officers across the world.

The only challenge that was more commonly shared within the top three was a difficulty hiring professionals with sustainability skills. This was cited by 35% of UK-based CSOs, compared with 28% globally.

It was also noted that, even when British firms hire professionals with sustainability-related training, they often struggle to retain them. Three in ten raised this as a key challenge.

EY attributes this, in part, to a lack of suitable upskilling opportunities. There is also the fact that the profession is becoming increasingly competitive, with demand for trained individuals rapidly outstripping supply. The World Economic Forum last month revealed that three in ten of the fastest-growing roles globally since 2018 are related to environmental sustainability.

Despite these concerns, the EY research also revealed that most CSOs have a level of confidence in delivering their organisation’s net-zero goal. 25% of sustainability leaders were found to be extremely confident and 53% very confident that they will achieve their targets. Only 8% of UK leaders expressed a lack of confidence in achieving their goals.

It was found that half of the UK-based CSOs are in the process of appointing new employees or retraining their existing workforce. A further 28% said their organisation had already completed this process. This leaves only a minority with no plans in this space.

EY UK&I’s managing partner for sustainability, Rob Doepel, said businesses are increasingly realising that having strong, senior environmental expertise in-house “could make the difference to whether their company thrives or flounders in the new green economy”.

Doepel said: “While many remain confident in reaching their targets, there is an underlying concern that a lack of sustainability expertise, particularly at a leadership level, could stall business net-zero ambitions.

“We have seen real progress in Board leadership and understanding when it comes to sustainability, and businesses with environmental expertise at senior levels will be well positioned to identify climate risks and opportunities and manage their organisation’s own complex green transitions. However, more investment is clearly needed to further develop this in-house expertise and attract new talent at all levels of business.”

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