On how sustainability is rocketing up the charts, salaries included
Photo by Ern Gan on Unsplash

News from the front desk 446: We reckon some will be shocked reading what Talent Nation says is the first specialist survey on salaries in our patch.

We also reckon there’ll be a quick flow of new blood to the area, especially from women who will be surprised to see that here is a sector where they leave men in the dust, at least a little in terms of numbers and salaries.

Some people didn’t quite believe the numbers when we flagged them under embargo to get some comments and feedback.

Especially shocking was that at the top of the tree, sustainability professionals are earning more than $300,000 a year, for both women and men, but men at a lower rate. Guys, you might have to get your lobbying skates on for equality. Check with your female counterparts to learn how.

Gender remuneration data

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But before everyone gets a) very excited b) despondent that their salaries are nowhere near this amount, it might be useful to say right up front that these high salaries are not in the property sector.

According to managing director of Talent Nation Richard Evans who surveyed 200 companies to find these benchmarks, the real paydirt is in the dicier, high profile and – let’s face it – at risk sectors of finance and what’s generally known these days as the extractive industries, or dirty old mining in old parlance (not that all mining is bad; we still need lithium and a few other minerals to decarbonise our world).

Average total package

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See the full report

Evans says you can look to the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures and the banking royal commission to get a gist of that truth. And the old saying still stands, the riskier the business, the higher the rewards need to be.

But there are other things going on, and it’s what we say over and over: the power of money. Investors want sustainable these days, they want ethical and they want the numbers and the strategy to back up their sense of security that companies are worthy of their attention.

After all, they have their shareholders to deal with if things go awry.

In general, Evans says, the prestige of sustainability and environmental roles has risen up the charts.

Ten or 15 years ago when this industry was starting to take shape the focus was operational and reporting. A more junior level of engagement and status. At the entry graduate level, pays are still around $60,000 and it can take five years to wind your way up, we hear (not from Evans who stuck to the more senior roles for the survey).

Newly appointed chief executive of the Green Building Council of Australia Davina Rooney says things have changed and yes, the roles are more strategic. Still, she was surprised at the discrepancies between men and women, particularly because of the strong focus in the property sector on gender equity. Have things overshot?

“Ten to 15 years ago sustainability managers were giving operational advice and now it’s more strategic. They’ve risen in prominence over time, particularly in response to investor queries,” she says.

Beck Dawson, who is now the chief resilience officer for 100 Resilient Cities (pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation and the City of Sydney), was at Investa before the current gig and started there after 10 years in the UK working in a network of museum facilities.

At the time, she says, her company was probably at the forefront of the industry.

What was the status of sustainability at the time?

At Investa it was “excellent” and was well received. It was seen as strategically important to the business.

Craig Roussac, who was her boss and in the job that Dawson stepped up to when he left to form his current business, Buildings Alive, was in the top tier of management.

Roussac suspects he was very well paid compared to others in sustainability.

“The difference for me was that because it was owned by Morgan Stanley there were various incentives” and what he calls “risk remuneration” applied. In other words, there was a nice salary attached.

Today the value of sustainability is more widely appreciated.

Evans says that respect for the value that sustainability can bring to a company is on the rise.

“It’s becoming more prevalent and it’s bringing sustainability into the boardroom.”

Ten years ago sustainability was taken seriously but when things came off the boil, roles were not replaced and the sector was downgraded, Evans says.

What he doesn’t say is that sustainability came under sustained attack and the word itself was mooted for redundancy under the climate of fear.

But now things are in reverse and these roles are being pushed back up the organisational hierarchy.

Evans says the shift started about 18 months ago, roughly when the world’s most high profile and biggest asset manager BlackRock sent out its letter that said that if companies were not actively responding to climate change and sustainability then they had better look elsewhere for investment.

The emergence of the Task Force of Climate Related Disclosure was another catalyst.

It was around the same time that there was an uptick in interest in the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

“There were a number of things happening in the industry starting to galvanise focus around sustainability and even around a licence to operate,” he says.

The royal commission into banks was another big factor.

And then there are the millennials – increasingly it’s clear they care about purpose. From a talent attraction and retention strategy point of view that’s important, Evans says, because for the most talented people work needs to be attractive.

Evans also points to the most recent proof of this with BHP Group chief executive Andrew Mackenzie calling out action on climate change.

It’s a good look for the company – with multiple beneficial ramifications as well, and not just a crude concern for the bottom line nor about doing the bare minimum, but about “how do we integrate with the community.”

These are all growing trends internationally. And they do actually pay off.

Without a good ESG strategy the company might fail to attract the investors it needs, which may be reflected in the share price.

This makes the top tier reporting roles far more interesting and attractive.

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  1. This is really interesting about the pay differentials! Soft skills are a must in delivering impactful, sustainablity agendas. In this area of work perhaps soft skills or other factors influence the pay more than the usual gender related differences in pay.