Why Closing The Sustainability Skills Gap Matters

Why Closing The Sustainability Skills Gap Matters

In this guest post, Stu Wragg (lead image), managing director at sustainability consultancy Salterbaxter Australia, says Australia’s push for sustainability is being held back by a gnawing skills problem…

What did you think about Apple’s recent video starting Octavia Spencer as Mother Nature?

Brave and creative piece of content that demonstrates sustainability actions, exec accountability and the importance of nature as a stakeholder?

Or a piece of marketing that misleads about Apple’s true environmental footprint, fails to address where progress isn’t being made, and ultimately encourages greater consumption?

Perhaps you’re a bit of A and a bit of B.

Whatever your view, the video’s release and subsequent debate goes to show the challenges businesses face when engaging on sustainability.

Especially the risk of being seen to ‘greenwash’.

No wonder marketers are uncertain how to approach sustainability-focused engagement.

One reason for such uncertainty concerns knowledge and skills.

A recent World Federation of Advertisers study found 35 per cnet of senior client-sided marketers cited sustainability capability gaps as a challenge facing the profession.

What’s interesting (read: concerning) is how this gap has grown (up from 20 per cent in 2021).

Through one lens, the sustainability capability gap is a big problem for the industry. And not just because it might lead to more greenwashing.

It also has the unintended consequence of promoting green-hushing (holding back from engaging on sustainability).

That’s a problem because the less brands are visible on sharing their sustainable transformation the less incentive there is for other businesses to follow suit.

At the same time however, the acknowledgement that sustainability knowledge and skills levels are not where they need to be is positive in that it suggests there is willingness to learn.

That willingness is very real based on the marketers I engage with.

Everyone, it seems, is hungry to build knowledge.

The challenge is knowing where to start.

I get that. The more you dig into the challenges facing people and our planet the easier it becomes to feel overwhelmed and confused as to what you can do (professionally and personally).

For marketers wanting a helping hand, here are five places to start.

  1. Get informed. Read up on the latest sustainability trends, regulations and best practices shared by regulatory and industry bodies. The ACCC’s draft guidance on environmental and sustainability claims is a good place to start, as is the AdNetZero website.
  2. Get familiar. School yourself on your business’ sustainability strategy and actions. Talk to experts in your business about how the strategy was built, what the actions are, what they will achieve and how you’re tracking. Ask how ambitious the strategy is. Question what the company isn’t doing, yet, and what’s on the horizon.
  3. Get collaborative. If you’ve got a sustainability team or individual within your business that looks after sustainability take the time to understand what they do and what they’re seeing as opportunities and challenges. The way sustainability functions operate and interact with marketing and comms functions is too siloed inside most businesses. The more those siloes can be broken down, the greater impact can be created.
  4. Get networked. I’m yet to meet a business that doesn’t have more they could do when it comes to engaging internal and external stakeholders on sustainability. Talk to your peers and competitors. Share what you’re learning. Your ability to communicate credibly, authentically and effectively will be better as a result.
  5. Get educated. Consider enrolling in a course or workshop related to sustainability to broaden your mind. Membership organisations, such as the United Nations Global Compact offer a wealth of materials and insights that can help build your understanding of key concepts and trends.

There is of course no one way to build knowledge and understanding of sustainability. What matters is leaning into learning, however you do it.

The more we all become aware of the broader context and urgent need for more radical and ambitious sustainable transformation, the more we can harness marketing and advertising to mobilsie the behaviour change and progress-making that’s needed.




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