The war for ESG talent5 min read

The war for ESG talent5 min read

A while ago I read an interesting article on the challenge of companies to grab professionals in the field of sustainability, “Inside the war for ESG talent” (link). It happened again yesterday with another article, “ESG, the war for talent and the GC” (link). So I decided to write on this topic too.

In essence, the authors argue that it is a great time for professionals with these skills to advance in their careers.

Anyone who saw it a long time ago – or simply fueled their passion for these subject matters – now find themselves one step ahead of everyone, with a considerable advantage.

War – if we can speak of war – is full of holes right from the hiring process, where there is a mismatch in supply and demand for professionals. This ESG momentum leads companies to seek professionalism that is difficult to find or who are lacking in the job market: analysts, strategists, and other environmental, social, and governance experts, perhaps with a background in a consulting firm that dealt mainly with ESG.

The multiplicity of definitions in this field does not make things simpler.

As one of the articles points out “The term ESG has also become conflated with “sustainability” in some circles, particularly in Europe, where ESG no longer refers primarily to meeting the data and reporting needs of financial markets and other stakeholders. (In the United States, the term remains largely distinct from sustainability, referring primarily to finance-related activities, although that is starting to change.) This blurring of terminology makes data about the growth of ESG-labeled jobs difficult to compile and assess“.

In fact, drawing up adequate job descriptions is more unique than rare undertaking. Situations in which the candidate is more competent than the assessor, to name one. But, subsequently, the possibility of setting the terms and agenda in a business context where few or no one has any idea how to manage ESG issues.

Of course, since ESG positions are relatively new roles in the job market (compared to standard positions), the responsibilities are not set in stone and continue to evolve.

Another challenge: the lack of standardization of what people in ESG jobs actually do and how to assess job candidates against standard criteria. That’s making the recruitment process harder“, continues Joel Makower in his article “Inside the war for ESG talent” (link).

The point is that ESG is not just charity, solidarity, donations. It is not (only) about philanthropy either. The most virtuous companies include the ESG component in their strategic choices, drawing up business plans that revolve around these factors, in order to maximize return on investment. We can’t know if some of these situations are greenwashing. But let’s go back to the initial theme. The battle for ESG talent.

This battle is taking place at all levels: entry-level positions (which will gradually include the generation Z, more attentive than ever to sustainability issues), experienced professionals, manager/team leaders, director, C-level, VP Level.

And it would seem that in the years to come there may be professional opportunities for everyone.

Why? Employers are actively in the market for ESG talent. For example, in June 2021, PwC announced that ESG will be a key focus in its plans to invest $12 billion over the next five years and to create 100,000 new jobs (link). Numbers that anticipate the extent of the change underway. Suffice it to say that at the moment, the accounting firm employs about 284,000 people globally. A nice jump of 35%, with average growth rates of 6.2% per year.

Obviously, like everything, it is a cycle and in some time the process (starting from the selection of candidates) will be more standardized and certainly in search of specific skills (e.g. reporting specialists, climate change advisors, stakeholders engagement experts, CSR managers, sustainability initiatives leaders, energy transition executives, just to name a few).

ESG momentum, again, makes everything more frenetic and in some cases, FOMO leads to acceleration (both on the company and employees side).

Take for example Linkedin, the leading online platform that connects professionals worldwide. Well, not a day goes by there without posting (by individuals or companies) about sustainability. Of course, most of the posts are about “corporate sustainability”, which means the efforts of the organizations to take responsibility in the field of environment, social and governance, and – consequently – the will (need?) to communicate it to its stakeholders. Empirically, (unfortunately, I have not found any research on it) I can say with reasonable certainty that companies of all types and industries publish at least one post a week on these topics. Not to mention re-posts from online newspapers (now all have the “sustainability” section), reports, leading practices, etc. that on a daily basis publish stories in the ESG field.

Speaking instead of training and education – another topic that is well linked to Linkedin and the skills of employees – degrees and university courses in the ESG space multiply, online courses (more or less valid) emerge at impressive speed, as well as certifications that should validate the skills that are then sold on the talent market.

Also some time ago, I was reading (again from a connection of mine in Linkedin, coincidentally. Here you can find the original article) a post related to certification in the Sustainability/ESG field to be absolutely known. Another day I came across a post that shared another article listing the best free online sustainability courses instead.

Not to mention the phenomenon of Green Influencers who use social media to promote sustainability. But this is a broader topic, which does not only concern Linkedin.

In short, there have been warning signs of change in the last period (much more than in the last decade). The sensitivity of a growing number of stakeholders to ESG issues is now more crucial than ever for companies. And since these same companies are made up of people, sustainability professionals play a key role in future business strategies. Let’s see how everything evolves. We can talk about it in some time.

Sources: Inside the war for ESG talent, GreenBiz, Joel Makower (July 19, 2021), – Guest comment: ESG, the war for talent and the GC, Legal Business (September 6, 2021)PwC planning to hire 100,000 over five years in major ESG push, Reuters, Jessica Dinapoli (June 15, 2021)
Featured image by André Santana AndreMS from Pixabay

Giuseppe Perrone

Author and initiator of TwentyNow. ESG Manager in a tech unicorn after a 10 year experience in a big4 consulting firm. Travel lover, (former) basketball player, (current) outdoor basketball fighter. I love also mountain biking and running. I had the idea of creating TwentyNow to bring out the latest ESG trends and sustainability initiatives on a global scale, implemented by companies or bring forward by individuals.