Innovation That Matters

Three crucial lessons in corporate ESG strategy

Innovation Snapshot

How upskilling staff helps to embed sustainable practices and behaviours

We sat down with the founders of learning platform Sustainability Unlocked, a B Corp and impact business, to get their insight into how corporates with a grip on their ESG strategy are leading the charge.

Henry White, CEO, and Robert Ellison, Chief Commercial Officer, are the founders of Sustainability Unlocked, a learning platform they claim is the first B2B offering of its kind. The pair launched its predecessor, Finance Unlocked, in 2019 – Robert had spent 20 years working in the finance industry, the latter part of which he’d spent proactively offering workshops to colleagues with a desire to upskill.

“In terms of how we can be relevant at a point of immediate and urgent need to our customers today, that is Sustainability Unlocked,” he says. “Before we launched, we saw it through our data, that users were gravitating towards ESG-related content, and we heard it through conversations with existing clients. Skills needs follow business priorities.”

According to the consultancy Bain & Company, 75 per cent of global business leaders believe that they have not embedded sustainability well into their business. A recent study by the firm, The Visionary CEO’s Guide to Sustainability, found that in addition to this, 63 per cent of respondents to the survey agree that their company’s ESG strategy requires different skills and behaviours, but only 45 per cent of non-managers believe their company offers the right upskilling resources.

How can leaders bridge this gap?

1. Take a holistic, skills-based approach to sustainability

“This is a moment of huge change,” says Robert. “The Bain research shows that there is a realisation that companies can’t just hire in sustainability talent and a bunch of consultants and they will radically reshape the business. The value is upskilling existing talent and not just through a top-down approach.

Typically, firms send their leaders off for management training, or sustainability professionals try to act as educators in their spare time, holding things centrally in SharePoint, which is not efficient.

2. See regulation as an opportunity

New regulations are coming out, which provide opportunities for learning. According to Bain, ‘It’s no longer enough to count on ‘knowing’ what to do; we have to lean in to ‘learning’ what to do’. Says Henry: “Reporting on carbon and other sustainability metrics are no longer optional in Europe with the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive becoming mandatory from 1 January 2024, and other countries already requiring mandatory reporting. More innovative firms are already way ahead of the curve and have already educated or are educating employees. We are now seeing an increasing number of companies asking about scope 3 emissions and supply chains – the scalability of Sustainability Unlocked allows for dissemination of knowledge at pace, and the vibe we are getting is ‘everyone needs to know this now!’”

3. Be bold

According to Robert, the threat of a greenwashing accusation is making some companies nervous, but companies who are at the top of their sector are being bold, and the ones seeing success are the ones where there is, “real alignment now between employees, stakeholders and investors. Companies successfully executing on sustainability strategy have it embedded in all departments, not just in investor relations or HR.”

Sustainability Unlocked has more than 80 interactive, on-demand sustainability courses available on its platform. The courses are designed with leading world experts, including former Bank of England governor turned climate expert Mark Carney.