Tania Crosby, left, and Melissa Houghton

25 May 2012 – Sustainability managers are feeling the pinch, with budgets being squeezed and scepticism growing about the sustainability agenda within the workplace according to director of Sustainability at Work, Tania Crosbie, commenting on a new report.

The Australian Sustainability Manager report, released on 16 May and commissioned by Sustainability at Work, (flagged recently in The Fifth Estate) highlights the challenges faced by sustainability managers.

Maintaining a focus on sustainability during the global economic downturn is one of the biggest challenges facing Australian sustainability managers, the report found.

Our research has found that whether they are in the health, construction, manufacturing or finance industries, sustainability managers must have a well-reasoned business case for investing in sustainable programs and activities,” Ms Crosbie said.

Interviews with 20 sustainability managers found that they are focused on a range of common business drivers: resource efficiency, mandatory reporting, the growing requirement for carbon accounting and how sustainability activities can enhance staff morale and corporate image.

Similarly, the report reveals that sustainability managers share many challenges: budgets, staffing, overcoming scepticism and maintaining focus on integration of sustainability into day-to-day operations.

The research also identified three types of sustainability managers: the optimistic newcomer, the sustainability specialist and the experienced environmental manager.

“Optimistic newcomers and sustainability specialists share common backgrounds and ideals. These people tend to approach sustainability in terms of behavioural and organisational change,” Sustainability at Work director, Melissa Houghton said.

“Experienced environmental managers, however, approach sustainability from a scientific perspective, focusing more on risk management and less on the social benefits or behavioural change.”

“Understanding these different approaches can help organisations identify the skills required in order to meet their sustainability objectives,” Ms Houghton said.

Despite some scepticism and concerns about budgets, the sustainability managers interviewed were all optimistic about their roles and their potential impact.

“The people we interviewed all identified selling the business case for sustainability as the key driver for the successful integration of sustainable business practices,” Ms Crosbie said.

“Universally, those interviewed argued that success was only possible when the sustainability agenda was supported from the top of the organisation.”

Ms Houghton said the new research would not only give sustainability managers an insight into their roles, but also help chief executive officers and executive teams to better understand the challenges and opportunities faced by sustainability managers, and what the future holds for the sustainability programs within their organisations.