Sustainability skills underpin long-term economic success

Sustainability skills underpin long-term economic success

April 12, 2016 Off By Wild Anglia

The global economy is facing a perfect storm of rising population, scarcity of vital resources, volatile prices of essential materials and resources such as energy, degradation of ecosystems and biodiversity, and the effects of climate change.

These significant global and UK trends mean that environment and sustainability need to be integrated into decision making at all levels: in the way businesses and organisations are managed; in the design and development processes for new products and services; and in the siting of critical new infrastructure.

Volatility of supply, climate change, greater use of regulation and consumer pull for eco-products will drive the development of alternative business models and the emergence of a ‘circular economy’[3].

These forces are reflected in the concern expressed by business. In a global survey of 1000 CEO’s 68% didn’t believe that the global economy is on track to meet the demands of a growing population; and only 33% believe that business is making sufficient efforts to address global sustainability challenges[4].  In a survey from IEMA in 2014, only 13% of respondents were fully confident that their organisation had the skills to successfully compete in a sustainable economy[5].

Although environment and sustainability will have profound changes on production processes and manufacturing over the next four decades[6], there’s also a significant business opportunity.  Defra calculates that UK businesses implementing resource efficiency measures requiring investment with less than a one-year payback period can save £23 billion.  Where the payback period is beyond 12 months, the savings actually almost double to £55bn[7]…..what’s not to like?

The case for environmental management and corporate sustainability to be adopted into all levels of organisational decision making has never been stronger, and as the financial case from valuing the natural environment becomes more compelling, the opportunity to increase productivity and efficiency with a reduced environmental footprint of global supply chains will provide real competitive advantage. The response needs to be comprehensive, credible, evidence-based and sustained over the long term.

At the same time, public scrutiny on the way organisations operate and behave make transparency, accountability, credibility and responsibility watchwords for organisations in the 21st Century.

Determining how organisations and communities should respond in a way that is sustainable over the long term demands competent people with the right skills and experience. After all – if it were easy it’d have been done long ago.

The adoption of the skills and competencies by those at the vanguard are building environment and corporate sustainability into the fabric of their organisational vision, strategy, governance and decision making processes, setting new standards for assurance and expectations of investors and society.

IEMA takes the view that the most effective way of doing this is for the UK to make the transition to a sustainable economy, to grasp the opportunities to enhance competitiveness and productivity, and adopt a new set of sustainability skills.


Martin Baxter

Chief Policy Advisor, IEMA


[1] IEMA (2014) Preparing for the Perfect Storm – Skills for a Sustainable Economy

[2] United Nations (2013) World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision UN Department of Social and Economic Affairs, Population Division, New York

[3] Change from an economy based on the conversion of raw materials into products which end their lives as waste, to an economy where products are re-used, ‘re-purposed’, repaired, re-manufactured and recycled, cascaded, and recovered – with value being extracted multiple-times

[4] Accenture (2013) The UN Global Compact & Accenture CEO Study on Sustainability

[5] IEMA (2014) Preparing for the Perfect Storm – Skills for a Sustainable Economy

[6] Foresight (2013) “The Future of Manufacturing – A new era of opportunity and challenge for the UK” –Project Report, Government Office for Science, London.

[7] Defra (2011) “The Further Benefits of Business Resource Efficiency” – Oakdene Hollins research report completed for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), London