The Competencies Required for Sustainability – Three Perspectives

Last week I proposed that sustainability is analogous to economics.  The thought was triggered during the GreenGov panel that I was moderating. The panel represented the full gamut of professional organizations in the field; Ira Feldman on the board of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), Valerie Patrick on the board of the Association of Climate Change Officers (ACCO),  Teri Yosie has recently completed a collaboration with  Net Impact,  and myself on the board of the Corporate Responsibility Officers Association (CROA).

The ISSP, CROA and NetImpact have all recently taken a look at the competencies required by the practitioner from different perspectives. All reports are available free on-line.  A very brief summary of each and some thoughts……….

In Structuring and Staffing Corporate Responsibility the CROA has categorized competencies into Knowledge, Skills and Attributes (KSAs) shown at a high level in the chart below. The KSA were derived from interviews and from a review of the job descriptions of practitioners. The focus, as might be expected, is on the full scope of the corporate responsibility practice from sustainability through philanthropy. A more detailed treatment in the report looks at how those skills align differently to different roles within the broader CR practice.

The ISSP’s 2010 Competency Survey Report categorizes skills into ‘soft’ and ‘hard’. In the chart below I have listed the skills under each heading in order of importance as derived by the ISSP’s survey.  The focus is on sustainability professionals. The report identifies the relative importance of the skills identified, with some substantial differences in importance between the top one to five skills in each category and those further down the chart

Only last week, Net Impact together with the World Environment Center released  Business Skills for a Changing World, spotlighting business skills required when teaching sustainability in business schools. Using data from interviews with sustainability executives in global companies, NetImpact and WEC identified an innovative and thought provoking categorization of inside–out skills, outside-in skills and traversing skills.  This report is targeted at the broader scope of business school students of all disciplines and functions, rather than sustainability/CR practitioners specifically.

The range of approaches indicates the continuing evolution of the field.  But going back to where I started, it confirms for me the idea that sustainability is analogous to economics.  The NetImpact/WEC report addresses the sustainability equivalent of equipping business school students to understand economics.   The ISSP and CROA reports represent the skills required by the various sustainability practices. Although sustainability distinctions are less well evolved, as an illustrative example, this might be  akin to differentiating between the skills is required of perhaps an accountant and a financial advisor, both practitioners in the ‘economics’ field.

And integrated reporting – where does that fit in ?   More about that another time 🙂

I would welcome your thoughts.


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