Sustainability jobs: What qualifications are required?

Clim8 Careers Team
09 April 2021
sustainability jobs

Are qualifications becoming a prerequisite for C-Suite roles in sustainability jobs? Digesting the news over the past six months, you would think so.

Understanding sustainability will be key in helping the transition to NetZero. But not everyone needs a Masters in Environmental Science to qualify. More, an understanding of how it fits into the wider picture. 

Transitioning to sustainability

Emma Kisby, Managing Director of CoGo, is a prime example. Emma has made the transition to a C-Suite role in a purpose-driven company without having sustainability qualifications.

She has spent the majority of her career translating the value of customer data into commercial value; driving sales through greater personalisation and improving business performance. She gained a lot of experience setting up a data business for Sainsburys, i2c.

However, a trigger moment was her move to Virgin Management. Here, she learnt about putting purpose at the heart of business. And how in a meaningful way this could intrinsically lead to commercial success.

Why did you move to CoGo?

Having seen first hand the immense value that customer insights delivers to business, I have been on a personal mission to empower consumers with their own data. To provide them with  insights to help make better informed decisions about their own spend. This is at the heart of CoGo’s mission and why I was so inspired to join.

CoGo is all about helping consumers express their values through their everyday spend. Users link their bank accounts and share their social and environmental values. And we show them the impact of their spend. What’s more, we can also give them little ethical nudges to help them change the way they spend.

For example, it was a pretty big moment of truth when I first saw my own personalised carbon footprint. This was in relation to my monthly spend. I was shown a great alternative: switching my fashion clothing spend to vintage fashion brands like Beyond Retro could reduce my footprint.

As a senior management member, have you noticed any differences in your role from previous senior management roles at non-purpose driven companies?

There is a very natural inclination towards collaboration and easy cultural alignment of values.

At a purpose first business like CoGo, everyone is super motivated. We have the greater mission of  changing the world for good. And therefore, naturally very value-aligned (although some are more extreme than others). We are all driven by the same thing - it’s both a job and a passion.

As a result, my Slack is always full of people sharing new amazing innovative business and solutions. The team are constantly trying to work out how we can collaborate with these businesses to highlight what they are doing. 

The most revealing around the difference, is even with our competitors, our founder Ben is constantly reaching out to look for opportunities to collaborate and share ideas around methodologies on carbon footprinting to create standardised reporting and evolve the sophistication of this area.

There is so much news on C-Suite members not having enough sustainability knowledge. Do you see this a lot? If so, what are your thoughts on it?

I think the focus should be on how many businesses and C-Suite executives are coming out and making public statements around committing to building back greener. From Alison Rose NatWest Group CEO putting driving the UK to a low carbon economy as central to their strategy,  to James Watt at Brewdog with his Fxck Carbon campaign. It is brilliant to see this leadership from the top and we are increasingly seeing businesses building their understanding and knowledge in sustainability. 

Look at how many UK banks are sending their employees through the Business Sustainability Management course at Cambridge.  One senior executive who is a climate lead in a big UK corporate, told me that this year was the first year he had finally been able to remove 4 slides from his deck which explained that there was a climate crisis. So we are seeing genuine growth in everyone’s understanding of sustainability and there is so much to learn.  

Did you need sustainability knowledge or experience when applying for your role? If yes, what kind?

I have always had a passion for sustainability and driving business for good, but I’m not an expert in sustainability.  We have lots of these at CoGo. Ben - our founder is a climate economist and we have a wealth of amazing sustainability experts we work with; Mike Berners-Lee the UK’s leading carbon expert; Owain Service - ethical nudge specialist who set up the nudge unit for the cabinet; Mike Barry - just a sustainability guru.

CoGo didn’t recruit me for my sustainability expertise. But to bring a different dynamic and focus around how we scale our proposition: maximising customer data and establishing commercial partnerships.

That being said, I obviously had to get up-to-speed pretty quickly. For example, things like the science and methodologies behind our carbon footprinting model. And how we translate the SDGs into customer values. But I have been very lucky to be surrounded by amazing experts. And also I have read a lot, and listened to a lot of podcasts. 

What do you think is the most impactful thing a C-Suite member can do/lead within a purpose-driven company?

Engage their employees.  We are seeing some amazing silo-ed climate programmes of work, but they need to be integrated into the core of the business across all departments.

Equally, there is an amazing opportunity to engage employees to find measurable solutions within the workplace and this in turn makes the company very attractive notably for graduates who are coming into the market actively seeking out purpose-first businesses. 

What has been your biggest learning at CoGo?

I am a busy working mum – I am always so time-starved. In the past it’s been hard to carve out time or effort to think differently about the habitual spending patterns of my family. 

The benefit of CoGo, is it has opened my eyes both professionally and personally to all these amazing businesses where their core purpose has grown from looking to solve the climate crisis. 

I’m about to get my daughter her first phone and it would be easy to pop to the Apple Store, but of course I’m very aware that E-Waste is one of the biggest waste issues today. 

Businesses like Fairphone and Reconome provide a great alternative. Mud Jeans is another one - one of the most polluting items in our wardrobes and we all wear denim in our family.  Knowing about businesses like Mud Jeans - who are all about circular denim helps me to be a more conscious consumer and makes it easy to seek alternatives. 

What do you think will be the most important priorities for C-Suite in the coming few years in purpose-driven companies?

There are three things:

  1. Measurement & Reporting - all these brilliant ambitious commitments need to be supported by initiatives that can be measured and reported. The investment cases that underpin them need to evolve beyond the traditional approaches to consider longer term benefits.
  2. Thinking beyond creating silo-ed programmes of work around climate and sustainability and looking at how they can be embedded across the organisation. 
  3. Looking for opportunities to engage suppliers and customers and look beyond just their operations. 

What is your top tip for someone looking to work in a senior management role in a purpose-driven company?

I would think very much about Impact. Both yours and the company.

Do you believe that the company and their initiatives can make an impact that you can stand behind and equally can you personally make an impact to the company through the skills you have?

Emma can be reached on Linkedin.

Learn more about CoGo's work here.

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