Industry of Sustainability

When I was in government, there was a growing momentum in the recognition of the importance of sustainability as an economic sector. Partly because we see that the world is trying to rise up to the challenge of climate change, partly because we do care about the environment and our decarbonisation commitments; but more significantly, we also think about the good jobs that the sector would create for people.

When we take the lens of the economy, we may not be too strict about greenwashing versus a genuine push towards sustainability. We want to create more jobs, we want to replace those accountant, audit, IT roles that might have been lost to other markets. At a high level, we think perhaps that the skillsets will match – at maybe just with minimal training it will do. And of course there are lots of young people passionate about sustainability and the environment.

But I think we should care that we are creating good jobs that supports the global agenda to mitigate climate change. And we probably need to get into the thick of what all these jobs means and what are the outcomes we are moving towards. If we continue to go by the metrics of GDP growth and economic opportunity it’s hard for us to get out of the traditional sectors. Of course you can take a view that eventually sustainability will take an important share of GDP; of course you can think of growth potential but these are in the dangerous territory of crystal-ball gazing.

Better to consider new metrics. Maybe we can look at the decarbonising potential of each job or role. Perhaps we can look at how specific work deals with the set of problems we are experiencing globally across climate, environment, culture and biodiversity.

Just as the best companies may be focused on profits for the sake of driving excellence in service, product innovation and thought-leadership, as an economy we need to put the driver in the right place. Money or economic prowess is the cart that carries us; but our ideals, purpose and principles is the horse that pulls our cart.