28.05.20

Insights into sustainability professionals: Q&A with Sarah Holden

By Fiona Stephenson

The findings of New Zealand’s first survey into sustainability professionals have just been launched in a collaboration between Oxygen Consulting, Sustainable Business Network, Sustainable Business Council and AUT University. Sarah Holden, author of the report and Director of Oxygen Consulting, shares some of  her most interesting findings with us.

What was the most interesting finding from the research?

One of the most interesting things was the fact that sustainably professionals are really resilient. The research showed that when we compared sustainability professionals with other professionals, the job stress levels are 24% higher and the work demands are 18% higher in sustainability professionals. Yet job satisfaction is 12% higher. So the research tells us that sustainability professionals, despite some parts of their job being harder and more stressful, are enjoying their work more. They’ve got the stamina to put in the hard yards for outcomes that will benefit sustainability and resilience in their own organisations and also New Zealand.

What did you find the most surprising?

Something I was surprised by was the level of investment organisations have made in sustainability over the past 12 months. We found that 71% of organisations have increased their investment in the past year, which is substantial, and they’re using sustainability for transformation rather than compliance. That really surprised me, because in my experience of sustainability over the last 20 years, it’s gone from being something businesses were using for compliance or perhaps staff engagement to becoming a competitive advantage and something used for transformative purposes. It’s fantastic to see that coming through in the research.

How do you think the profession will be affected by the fall out from Covid-19?

I think all professions have been affected by Covid-19 and it’s really difficult to know what the long term impacts will be on the sustainability profession, but we now have a body of information here for those who are looking to get into sustainability. There’s a lot less mystery around the roles now, and for organisations looking to support their sustainability professionals, there’s information in this for them. More importantly, one of the things I realised was, we’ve got sustainability professionals with huge capabilities. 42% of them are juggling other responsibilities within the business apart from sustainability and they’ve got a really broad range of transferable skills, from strategic and problem solving skills to technical and reporting skills. That’s really challenging as well because it requires having a birds eye lens across the big picture but also the ability to dig into the detail. They spend a lot of their time influencing as well.

When you package that all together the research shows the level of capability that these sustainability professionals have. They’re smart people and 95% of them have a tertiary degree. If you look at most other professionals, only 51% have a degree. The sustainability profession is disproportionately higher in that regard. I do think it shows that sustainability professionals are very capable and perhaps can be utilised in a really positive way as businesses are looking to pivot or adapt or transfer skills.

What is your advice for anyone wanting to get into sustainability?

Go for it! Keep knocking on doors. The sustainability professionals are like a family and more than happy to welcome people to their whanau. If one of them can’t help you, someone else will. It’s a case of keep trying and persevere, as you will get there in the end. We know that sustainability professionals have come from all sorts of disciplines and professions. Never think that the skills you have won’t be useful in a sustainability role, as they will be.

Download ‘Insights on New Zealand Sustainability Professionals’ now.