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How to hire a Head of Sustainability

  • Publish Date: Posted over 1 year ago
  • Author:by Sarah Gould

The Demand for Sustainability Professionals

​In our ever-changing economic landscape, the one thing that continues to grow is the demand for Sustainability professionals. Governments and enterprises worldwide are committed to decarbonisation at various points over the next 30 years, and they require people to make this happen. In its Global Green Skills Report 2022, LinkedIn says that the number of green jobs has grown by an average of 8%, and it expects millions of new jobs to be created globally in the next decade. Similarly, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that green energy infrastructure alone will need to fill 14m new roles worldwide by 2030. As the demand for Sustainability professionals grows, so does their remit. We are seeing specialists in carbon, social values, waste, biodiversity, circular economy, energy and many other skills.

The critical challenge for any organisation is recruiting a skilled, proactive, effective sustainability leader to drive your strategy forward. Without the right person at the helm, your sustainability drive can quickly end up on the rocks or going around in circles.

Sarah Gould from Shirley Parsons is an expert in recruiting sustainability leaders. She recently placed a Head of Sustainability for a global logistics organisation, and she gives her tips on how to manage the process effectively:

1. What do you want to achieve?

Considering what you want to achieve from a senior hire helps set a clear direction and helps us effectively partner with our clients to make that match. To make that match, we collaborate with you to scope out the role and understand the purpose of the hire and how it feeds into the goals and vision of the company.

2. Why should a candidate be interested?

It is vital to look at it from the candidate’s perspective when hiring. Have you considered what your Employee Value Proposition is? A candidate will not move just because it is a good name on their CV. They want to know what you will offer them, and they aren’t just talking about finances. They are talking about mission and values, culture, diversity, social responsibility, career development, manager quality, innovation, work-life balance etc. Be prepared to answer their questions and provide a real sense of what it is like to work at your company. Retention and attraction are key challenges right now for a lot of organisations in a tight labour market.

3. What’s their brief?

A few key facts a candidate going for a Head of Sustainability/ESG position will want to know: how much freedom do they have to drive sustainability? Who do they report to? This gives them an idea of the influence they will have, and thirdly, does the organisation want to make a positive change or are they just greenwashing? You must be honest with candidates about your organisation’s commitment. If you promise something that isn’t delivered, you will likely need to start hiring again once your first hire leaves.

4. What personality will be successful?

Considering what personality traits would be successful in this hire would help. You may not want to have people with the same characteristics if you all think the same, and therefore what competitive advantage will that bring? What about a candidate’s aspirations? How can you help them achieve their goals? Our bespoke MAPP tool identifies critical personality traits and aspirations and is not just used as part of an interview process but can also assess your teams ahead of future hires, determining what you are missing and what you need.

5. How can you run a smooth process?

Pain free and enjoyable recruitment process can make the difference between hiring the ideal candidate and having them take another offer. Most suitable candidates have several options to choose from and will judge how efficient an organisation you are from how you deal with them. Companies are losing candidates due to a lack of speed so consider how you can quicken your interview process; do you need to have a panel of four available at the same time, or could you split this up? Make sure you have all the details sorted – development opportunities, training, benefits, location, and flexible working are all questions suitable candidates will ask. Remuneration is a pull factor, so make sure it is competitive (and take your recruitment partner’s expert advice). Expect counteroffers and compete with other hirers. Be flexible, organised and proactive.

6. Be flexible with sector knowledge

Finally, many organisations expect a Head of Sustainability to have several years of experience in their sector. Sustainability is a growing skill area and has not the candidate pool of other technical industries such as Health & Safety. Sector experience can be learned, and have you thought about what you can gain by hiring someone outside of the sector? You are hiring the Head of Sustainability for their expertise in sustainability, leadership, commercial awareness and personality skills. Not for their 10 years of working in your sector.

For further information about ESG and Sustainability Consultancy, please contact Sarah Gould

Sarah Gould is the Principal Consultant for Sustainability and ESG at Shirley Parsons. She leads on senior appointments within Sustainability and ESG across the UK and Europe. She has more than 10 years of experience in in-house recruitment and consultancy.

Sarah Gould, Principal Sustainability Consultant at Shirley Parsons


Sarah Gould

Principal Sustainability & ESG Consultant

Phone: +44 1296 611317