Tayanah O'Donnell

MARKET PULSE: Deloitte’s new sustainability lead Dr Tayanah O’Donnell says there is more demand than ever for senior sustainability professionals across the public and private sectors. She also predicts trends around population resettlement continuing into the future, more retrofitting of older buildings, using sustainable materials in construction, and electrification of transport. 

The rising tide of sustainability engulfing the world has companies at a crossroads: sink or swim.

Tightening government regulations, consumer demand and pressure to innovate has led to sustainability trends cutting across every area of the public and private sector.

It’s no wonder that 85 per cent of people indicate that they have shifted their purchase behaviour towards being more sustainable in the past five years, according to the Global Sustainability Study 2021 from global strategy consultancy Simon-Kucher & Partners. 

This creates both challenges and opportunities for all companies as the world embraces sustainability. Companies are starting to realise that sustainability professionals play a vital role in adapting their companies to a rapidly changing world. 

In fact, the average salary for a head of environmental compliance role jumped 35 per cent to $360,600 in the past two years, Talent Nation’s FY22 Environment and Sustainability Remuneration report found. Sustainability managers’ average salary increased 23 per cent to $233,730. 

Jobs in sustainability have grown by 38.5 per cent, according to LinkedIn’s Global Green Skills Report 2022.

Demand for environmental and sustainability professionals is outstripping supply, with more companies seeking qualified professionals to manage environmental targets and ensure human rights are upheld across supply chains.

Dr O’Donnell is a partner with Deloitte’s risk advisory, climate and sustainability team. A qualified lawyer with a PhD in climate change adaptation and coastal governance, she helps governments with climate and sustainability policy and program transformation. 

In an interview with The Fifth Estate O’Donnell confirms that there is more demand than ever for sustainability in senior management. For young people, sustainability is a growing career pathway that was “definitely” not as strong five or 10 years ago. And demand for the service is set to increase in the future. 

Based in Canberra, O’Donnell’s new role is focused on government “with respect to all things climate and sustainability” across policy advisory work, program design and implementation, as well as program evaluation.

“It’s a broad offering and we have a growing team to support it,” Dr O’Donnell says.

“For Australia, the cascading and interrelated impacts of a changing climate and urgency of which we are experiencing change means that trends are cutting across every area of government. 

“We’re starting to see a whole government movement in taking stock of what it means to act in good faith. This is a new trend we didn’t see five to 10 years ago, and there’s also movement in the private sector.”

Dr O’Donnell said that in the national team of climate and sustainability, Deloitte has around 50 employees – with seven people in her team “and growing”. 

“I am being thoughtful about how we grow our government-facing practice. Working with the government is a privilege and we are working to improve the lives of all Australians. The ultimate responsibility is that the taxpayer funds government programs, so the government is beholden to the public, and Deloitte is supporting that.” 

The team has recently hired new recruits and is looking to hire more in the future. 

To land a job in sustainability, re-skilling or upskilling may be needed. Networking, online training courses, and volunteering for sustainability-focused work are some of the ways that employees can meet the job requirements. 

Dr O’Donnell said that despite a skill shortage across a range of sectors as a result of COVID, Deloitte is yet to experience a shortage of qualified sustainability professionals who understand policy and how to work in the space. She added that the broader trend across the market points to recognising the need for sustainability professionals with expertise to enter organisations. 

“It’s a growing career pathway.

“I think demand for the service will increase, because of the base and scale of climate impacts. It will increase in the public and private sector. In terms of trends, it will be climate mitigation, influential at the board level and perhaps also for the government. 

“I’m hoping we will see increasing trends and activity in how we innovate and seize opportunities that present to us. How we treat datasets that support decision making, how we create an intelligent AI driven data system to support the real and rapid decision-making that needs to be made, in light of all the trade-offs between different stakeholders.”

Other trends she predicted include population resettlement continuing into the future, retrofitting older buildings, sustainable materials, and electrification of transport.

“It’s exciting to see such a sharp uptick in personal EV use across the country – seeing policy changes, and improving the charging system. That will be a huge opportunity for regional and rural areas where we have significant challenges in transport, trucks and freight. 

“The future is nice and I’m increasingly inspired by our young people. We are moving in the right direction.” 

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