Salaries for environment jobs across the country are in decline thanks to anti-green governments and poor corporate attitudes, but NSW is faring better than most and the expectation is that along the east coast the sector could soon improve.

According to a new survey of 1200 health, safety and environmental workers in 133 top Australian companies by recruitment firm envirosearch, there was an average decline of 4.8 per cent in remuneration across all environmental roles over the past year. The only area spared was right at the top, with general manager and head of environment and sustainability positions seeing increases of 2.7 per cent.

According to Julie Honore, managing director of envirosearch, there are currently fewer jobs in the environment and sustainability industry, resulting in less pressure to pay.

There are a number of factors that have led to a depressed market.

Anti-green governments

First is the federal government, as well as the former conservative Victorian and Queensland governments, whose attacks on “green tape” – otherwise known as environmental regulation – have translated into less work and fewer jobs for the environment sector.

“The drop in remuneration and reduced focus on sustainability roles in Australia is undoubtedly related to the ongoing unresolved political debate and focus on cost, which hasn’t provided business with a clear direction,” Ms Honore said.

Victoria and Queensland in particular saw significant declines in all environment job categories, envirosearch’s survey results show, and have been flagging since the conservative governments came into power.

However, in NSW, where there are numerous infrastructure projects underway, the trend was bucked with increases at the advisor (+0.5 per cent) and manager (+3.5 per cent) levels.

Ms Honore said NSW also tended to have a greater number of head offices, where environment and sustainability work for big companies tended to be based.

While the results aren’t great news, envirosearch is expecting a turnaround in green jobs across the East Coast with the election of new governments in Victoria and potentially Queensland.

In Victoria, for example, a planned review of the Environment Protection Authority could lead to additional powers being granted and an increase in demand for environment professionals, Ms Honore said.

Business not taking sustainability seriously

Another factor leading to the poor results is that, according to envirosearch, sustainability is not being taken seriously in Australian corporate circles.

Four to five years ago, Ms Honore said, environmental issues were being tackled in a much more strategic manner. Today, she said, many sustainability roles had been absorbed into a compliance function, which has led to a “loss of strategic thinking” in organisations.

“The drivers, the pull isn’t there,” Ms Honore told The Fifth Estate. “Five years ago companies needed a head of sustainability to be seen as credible.

“There’s now less emphasis on that strategic approach. It’s not front and centre in Australia. Outside of Australia they are still recruiting across that space. In Australia it’s about compliance and ticking the box. We’re not seeing the level of strategic thinking we were seeing five years ago, and that we’re still seeing overseas.

“The trend we observe overseas is on public discussion and focus around education, information and social commitment from all sides of the political spectrum – particularly in the US, Europe and more recently Asia, [where] sustainability and environment have become mainstream business functions.

Australia, she said, was now lagging behind.

See the envirosearch survey.

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