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Why plugging the sustainability skills gap is key to ESG

The new Sustainability Academy makes Microsoft’s environmental expertise available to all.

With extreme weather events, biodiversity loss and natural disasters, there’s more urgency than ever to tackle climate change. And although it’s been a long time coming, organisations are waking up to the reality that it’s not only the right thing to do, but a pressing business imperative, too. Organisations are increasingly feeling the pressure to get their sustainability initiatives in order, whether from customers, the board, regulators or in winning financing.

Beyond that pressure, businesses have a responsibility to do their part, but knowing where to start isn’t always so simple.

The race to digital and the cloud has empowered businesses to more efficiently green their operations. The tools exist today to help cut carbon footprints, offset energy-intensive on-site infrastructure, and optimise energy usage. And green jobs have grown by 8 per cent every year over the past five years – but a broad sustainability skills gap means many are going unfilled, and that businesses are not equipped to make the most of the latest tools.

That’s one reason why Microsoft has launched an upskilling initiative: the Microsoft Sustainability Academy. Initially a series of webinars, the programme is available free for everyone and is targeted at the general public, sustainability professionals and IT employees who may need training on the Microsoft Sustainability Manager Platform, an extensible solution that unifies data intelligence with automated sustainability management, for recording, reporting and reducing emissions.

The intention is to enhance the skill sets of Microsoft’s customers and partners within its ecosystem, enabling them to advance their companies’ sustainability journeys. Microsoft has committed to eliminating Scopes 1 and 2 emissions by 2025 and achieving carbon negativity across all scopes by 2030.

Born from Microsoft’s own sustainability commitments, the Sustainability Academy will build awareness as well as help professionals hone their abilities, assist attendees to understand supply chain risk and opportunities, and lay out roadmaps for strategising, implementing and monitoring their ESG programmes.

The series of webinars cover everything from introductory courses to ESG to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, governance best practice around diversity and inclusion, and ethical decision-making.

The World Economic Forum claims that if brought to scale, digital technologies could reduce emissions by 20 per cent by 2050 across the energy, materials and mobility sectors, while according to the LSE, digitalisation and artificial intelligence have a key role to play in enabling the optimal operation of energy systems, and reducing energy demand by cutting avoidable consumption. And during the Cop27 climate summit in Egypt in late 2022, attendees agreed that a smarter approach to technology was one of the main pillars for countries to leverage in order to reduce their carbon footprints.

At the same time, prioritising sustainability is also an unprecedented opportunity for making organisation-wide efficiency gains, with 0.1 higher-carbon efficiency on average associated with 1.0 per cent higher profitability and 0.6 per cent lower systematic risk.

Companies that fail to act may find themselves in trouble. In addition to the social and economic cost of climate change, and the growing scrutiny from customers, investors and regulators, organisations that aren’t successful in delivering ESG strategies may find themselves missing out on attracting and maintaining the best talent. A recent KPMG survey, for instance, found that 20 per cent of British professionals turned down jobs in businesses that couldn’t demonstrate their commitment to ESG. At the same time, the number of chief sustainability officers have soared in recent years, with those holding an executive-level position at the C-Suite more than tripling from 9 per cent in 2016 to 28 per cent in 2021.

To make the most of these technologies, businesses need to know how to implement them. They also need to be able to build an internal culture that understands why sustainability is so important. Upskilling is critical, not only because digital literacy can create efficiencies that lead to better environmental sustainability, but also because it can empower stakeholders within an organisation to understand the importance of ESG, and how individuals can play a role in achieving it.

The clock is ticking and businesses need to act fast. Only a smart, joined-up approach to data can help organisations gather the information they need and move quickly enough to tackle climate change. A recent Microsoft and BCG survey found that only 43 per cent of sustainability professionals had degrees in sustainability – but 68 per cent of sustainability leaders were hired internally. Those of us with the expertise to share knowledge must do so, to train the next generation of sustainability professionals and ultimately reverse the damage caused to our planet.

Professionals from around the world are already participating so they can learn more about ESG best practice, engage in debate, and join break-out sessions with Microsoft’s sustainability experts. Join the Sustainability Academy here to register for the webinars and learn more.

[See also: The case for sustainable thematic investing]

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