Sustainability Advisory

Sustainability: A team sport that needs a captain

Catherine Duggan
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Sustainability is a team sport. More and more companies are facing increasing regulatory compliance and heightened stakeholder expectations, which presents the need for a captain to lead the team.

While passion for the subject is often a common attribute of people in these roles, more traditional skills are equally, if not more important for successful integration of sustainability into business as usual. Here we take a look at a selection of the components that can help make this role a success.

Knowledge of the business

The impacts, risks, and opportunities that sustainability presents for each business are unique. Understanding sustainability together with an intimate knowledge of your business operations, stakeholders and future strategic plans are critical to ensure successful integration the sustainability agenda.

Commercial mindset

Sustainability, perhaps more than other disciplines, tends to attract people who are passionate about the topic, and driven by the need to be change makers. While enthusiasm is certainly needed particularly on more challenging days, the ability to consider and incorporate commercial aspects into the wider conversation can prove more effective than passion alone.

Risk management

While sustainability may be a developing area of expertise in companies, risk management is not. The risk posed by either the transition, or failure to transition to a more sustainable economy can and should be considered through existing risk management processes, enhancing existing skillsets and frameworks. Being familiar with the vocabulary and the approach taken can help with the incorporation of sustainability considerations. 

External communications

Many of the sustainability regulations being introduced focus on disclosure of sustainability-related information to facilitate informed decisions making by stakeholders. It is important that the implications of these disclosures are understood in the wider context of any supervisory oversight. In addition, consistency of investor messaging, and alignment with previous external disclosures, public commitments or marketing campaigns are other crucial factors for the effective management of external communications. 

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Stakeholder management

Perhaps the most fundamental skill required to develop and deliver a credible sustainability programme is the ability to get internal stakeholders on side. The ultimate goal of a sustainability function is that it should become business as usual, part of everyone’s day job. Until that point, support is required from all parts of the business from resources who are often already at capacity. The ability to tailor messaging to specific functions, outlining the drivers, risk and opportunities together with executive support is a critical skillset.

Change management

The impact of sustainability will ultimately be felt by all parts of the business e.g., through the implementation of new strategy, new regulation, new process, or new responsibilities. Agnostic of the sustainability, there is a significant change management element required to embed this level of change and support the culture in an organisation. 


While sustainability aims to deliver long term resilience for people, planet and profit, a degree of personal resilience is required to chart the path. An emerging discipline in a fluid regulatory environment requires an organised, curious mind to digest the implications of developing best practice and frequent landmark publications, together with a support network to ensure the workload is shared.

Building a sustainable future together

While the above list may seem unrealistic, it’s important to emphasise the ‘team’ nature of sustainability and the need to have support from across the organisation. Identifying a resource proficient in all of these areas is a significant challenge but securing resources with working knowledge of some or all of these areas, with the ability to upskill is more achievable. 

Members of this community often have diverse backgrounds and have taken unexpected paths to sustainability. Influenced by the material topics of a particular industry, those tasked with leading out on sustainability may have an operations, HR, legal, compliance, financial, scientific background, or something completely different.

Few people started out with the intention of becoming a sustainability professional but we now have growing community forging a new path for their companies with an appetite for collaboration given the fact we are all in the same boat and the water is rising.

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