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  • Nick Pye

Sustainability expertise:The need for speed

The adage “See one, do one, teach one” used to be the preserve of trainee surgeons, capturing the expectation for them to master a procedure in unreasonably quick time. Well, now it seems sustainability experts are also being created on equally unbelievable timescales.



In response to the urgent need for most big businesses to recruit multiple competent sustainability ninjas, the upwardly mobile army of middle managers are responding with the requisite lightning pace – by signing up for a CISL or Saïd course and immediately rebranding themselves ‘experts’. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a desire to upskill or explore a different career direction, but genuine expertise – which is what sustainability really needs, is born of on-the-job experience – where the tidy concepts collide with the organised chaos of most big organisations.


This expertise overclaim does little to resolve the 2 key capability gaps of most businesses: the need to raise the ceiling whilst also raising the floor. A few ninjas are needed to guide leadership teams at the top, but there’s also a need to educate and empower employees across functions to help them deliver and embrace sustainability as part of their day jobs.


From our experience, confusing the two can be disastrous: akin to placing the scalpel in the hands of an ambitious but naive medical student. Sustainability is too important, too tricky and still too nascent – nobody can confidently claim to be an expert – yet. If they do, run the other way.

In response to the urgent need for most big businesses to recruit multiple competent sustainability ninjas, the upwardly mobile army of middle managers are responding with the requisite lightning pace – by signing up for a CISL or Saïd course and immediately rebranding themselves ‘experts’. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a desire to upskill or explore a different career direction, but genuine expertise – which is what sustainability really needs, is born of on-the-job experience – where the tidy concepts collide with the organised chaos of most big organisations.


This expertise overclaim does little to resolve the 2 key capability gaps of most businesses: the need to raise the ceiling whilst also raising the floor. A few ninjas are needed to guide leadership teams at the top, but there’s also a need to educate and empower employees across functions to help them deliver and embrace sustainability as part of their day jobs.


From our experience, confusing the two can be disastrous: akin to placing the scalpel in the hands of an ambitious but naive medical student. Sustainability is too important, too tricky and still too nascent – nobody can confidently claim to be an expert – yet. If they do, run the other way.


Also in the news:
Sustainability in sport & leisure

Premier League clubs required to up their game


Super Bowl LVIII entirely powered by renewables


Lululemon greenwashing allegation

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