Where have all the senior level sustainability roles gone?

In a recent discussion with a few friends, we’ve been noticing a disturbing trend in Canada in the sustainability space – several Director and higher sustainability roles have been steadily disappearing.

Sustainability is one of those jobs where if you are effective, one should work themselves out of a job.  That being said, that would mean that in Canada, everything is completely embedded into our respective businesses.  Unfortunately, I would say that we are very far from that. Even in the most embedded companies, such as Unilever, they still need a centralized team to coordinate the disparate activities of the orchestra.

While these senior level folks have disappeared and with it their influence on the corporate strategy, it has left a more junior level staff member/team who don’t have quite the same amount of clout as their previous managers.  Unfortunately, this is when the focus drifts away.

Meanwhile, for these ex-senior sustainability practitioners, what is next for them?  Sustainability practitioners often have a bad rap for not being commercially minded enough, but nothing could be further from the truth for these undervalued resources.  Typically, most senior sustainability practitioners have spent many years in the business, and you will very rarely find someone who has such an in-depth view into the organization, who has the ability to communicate with all stakeholders, and think strategically.  They are the glue in an organization.  Certainly, a natural fit would be in strategy, marketing, communications/public affairs, or enterprise risk.

Sustainability issues are not going away anytime soon – and unfortunately, getting rid of these leaders will not serve a company in the long-term until things are genuinely embedded.


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