Less than one in ten UK businesses have a large sustainability team, survey finds

One-fifth of the survey respondents said sustainability is managed by a single person

Conducted by recruitment group Hays, the survey had respondents from businesses at a variety of sectors and businesses of all sizes were represented – from micro businesses with 10 staff or fewer, to ‘extra large’ organisations with more than 1,000 staff.

Promisingly, less than one-third of the respondents (29%) said their organisation has no dedicated sustainability resource. Hays found that, the smaller an organisation is, the less likely it was to have dedicated resources. Businesses with 50 or fewer staff accounted for the vast majority (88%) of those with no dedicated resource.

This finding chimes with other recent research into the challenges of sustainability action and ambition for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK.

Nonetheless, Hays found that most organisations are operating with a small or extremely small sustainability team. Just 7% of organisations surveyed said they have a large, dedicated team.

One-fifth of the survey respondents said sustainability is managed by a single person. This single-person approach was almost as common at large businesses as it was at smaller organisations. The person may have support from others in different departments, but, ultimately, they are the only dedicated staff member.

A further quarter (26%) of survey respondents said their employer has a small and dedicated sustainability team. Very large companies were around twice as likely to have a small, focused team overseeing this issue than small companies.

Remit and responsibility

The remainder of respondents (17%) were unsure who is in charge of managing sustainability in their organisation. Confusion on this issue was actually most pronounced at very large organisations and large organisations.

A more heartening finding is that more than one-quarter of the respondents say that sustainability is represented by at least one person with board-level responsibility.

27% said their employer has a main board director whose sole responsibility is sustainability. A further 10% said there is board representation for sustainability through a person or team with human resources as their main remit.

Other common functions which oversee sustainability work include compliance, health and safety (cited by 8% of respondents); estates and property (7%), operations (7%) and finance (4%).

Commenting on the findings, Hays’ director Paul Gosling said: “It’s really promising to see sustainability going up on the business agenda in recent times, with more and more organisations building dedicated sustainability teams.

Today, it’s about recognising the value of people with specialist expertise who can advise organisations and drive the right activity, in order to meet their sustainability goals. Ultimately, having a dedicated team is the way forward.

Last year, research from PwC threw out concerns about whether most chief sustainability officers are not being properly empowered, through their positioning in the corporate hierarchies and their access to training, education and funding.

On the former, PwC raised concerns that most CSOs do not sit on the C-suite. Half of the 1,300+ CSOs assessed sit two or more hierarchy levels below the C-suite.  The report calls these professionals “CSO light”, arguing that they likely don’t have a great deal of influence over business strategy.

Related news: SMEs see financial benefits and more as reasons to reach net-zero

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