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As pushing climate action and creating environmental and social impact becomes mainstream thought, so is the awareness that the future of jobs, as well as skills, is turning a shade of green. The US Department of Labor defines green jobs as those that produce goods and services that benefit our environment and natural resources, and where the employee is involved to make the production and delivery processes more environment friendly, use fewer resources and promote a circular economy. More broadly, a green economy is not just one that replaces extractive activities with regenerative options, but is also one that pushes and sustains economic, gender and racial justice.

A transition to a green economy has the potential to create millions of sustainability jobs. A growing consciousness about sustainability, climate change and carbon footprint as an offshoot of unbridled consumption along with emerging contours of lifestyles in the post-COVID era will push the drive towards green jobs. This growth is likely to more than compensate for the job losses in traditional industries. According to the ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook report, adoption of sustainable practices in energy and energy efficiency could create 24 million new jobs globally by 2030, while cutting 6 million jobs in fossil fuel industries. Degradation of the environment and ecosystem apart, heat stress and rising temperatures will impact our jobs and working hours, especially in the agriculture sector.

But this transition cannot occur smoothly unless our workforce, existing as well as new entrants, acquires the necessary green skills these green jobs would require. The green economy will not be a reality without integrating green skills into countries’ National Determined Contribution (NDC) targets. A 2019 article by ILO’s Senior Specialist Olga Strietska-Ilina highlights this disconnect as two-thirds of the NDC’s recognise the importance of capacity development, but less than 40% include skills training to support their implementation.

In terms of the sectors that would emerge as a hotbed for green jobs, the 2019 State of Jobs in India report by Grameen Foundation India analyses the potential of green jobs across water, housing, farming, clean energy, waste management, mobility, hospitality, health and other sectors. It identifies the potential of over 3 million green jobs to be created in the country by 2021, although this estimation was made before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In terms of the types of enterprises where such opportunities may arise, it may include green-solutions focused companies (say Germany’s Bio-lutions setting up a plant in India to make cutlery from agri-residue), large companies implementing sustainability strategies into their business models (apart from conglomerates like Pepsi or Tatas, even mid-sized companies in India like Arvind Mills are recycling water to reduce freshwater consumption) or companies that provide niche, green support-services. Even traditional artisan segments are addressing the need for sustainability, which unlocks the scope for green jobs. For instance, a block-printing artisan enterprise in Rajasthan using eco-friendly colours enables the unused wastewater from its production process to be utilised for farming.

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The Importance of Green Skills

The green transition will require sector-specific knowledge and technology to support decision-making, implementation and maintenance of the modified production processes, revamping of communication, analytical and management styles, and changes to how we invest. Mapping the occupational needs and then investing in the relevant green skills training are vital. It will also require legal recognition and protection; for instance, the informal sector working in waste picking/recycling are often bereft from identity cards, a basic need for social protection. While skills training programmes are being pushed, there is a need to reorient the investments into skills-training by both the public and private sector to ensure it closes the skills gap for the green economy. There is a need to build marketplaces for sustainable products, like a dedicated market for recycled plastic products or organic foods, which would incentivise the development and job creation in those sectors.

While funding may be a constraint given that many of the green sectors do not yet generate the cash-flow to capture the attention of fund managers, blended finance or outcome-based funding mechanisms may be an opportune way to start.

One must also note that the definition of what comprises a green job and skills is still evolving and not uniform or consistent. Even people working in this space give varying answers to the same question. This implies that the employees must develop a skill-set that is adaptable to different aspects of the field.

With the growing awareness about the environment and social issues amongst the world’s young millennials, interest in green jobs will undoubtedly accelerate as the youth seek to focus their education and careers on areas that they are more passionate about. This will add to the demand pull. At the same time, the supply push to green jobs and skills must be backed by steady regulations, government incentives and the mainstreaming of the green development agenda across employment and skills. It would also require the guidance and forecasting of green skill areas to facilitate relevant vocational and tertiary education programmes.

Ultimately, the potential size of the green economy is enormous, because each sector holds ample scope to become greener. A mind-shift change is visible in many companies and consumers, and this must accelerate. Innovations within existing green sectors are also heartening to see, like floating solar projects that overcome the constraint of onerous land acquisition rules for utility-scale solar projects. But while the sky is the limit, it would be prudent to focus on a few sectors as a low-hanging fruit and ramp up the initiatives towards skills-training for those sectors first. Without the necessary skills, any discourse on green jobs and its realisation in any sector of our economy will remain a pipedream!

Co-written by Prabhat Labh, CEO, Grameen Foundation India and Sourajit Aiyer, Consultant, South Asia Fast Track Sustainability Communications

ReThink Hong Kong is an ambitious two-day business conference taking place in Hong Kong this September that will explore and encourage meaningful partnerships, inspire organisational change and present solutions for a more sustainable economy, society and environment. Earth.Org spoke with ReThink founder, Chris Brown, about the event, the drive for sustainability in Hong Kong and how governments need to inspire consumer action.

The planet is facing unprecedented challenges due to unabated human activity. In order to give future generations a fighting chance of saving the planet, we need to prioritise collective change and shared responsibility through effective and meaningful collaboration. 

Earth.Org: How has COVID-19 Impacted the Organisation of the Event?

Chris Brown: Throughout February and March, things were very up in the air. We are very fortunate to have the partners that we do, who showed the commitment, support and flexibility that allowed us to find new dates in September. Of course, like everyone, we wish that COVID-19 hadn’t happened, but it’s opened up a new perspective for the event and we believe that we will have a more impactful event now; this pandemic shows that just as the effects of the virus are inescapable, so are those of the climate crisis. Unfortunately, there is a lack of comprehension of the severity of the climate crisis globally and in Hong Kong. A report by the Civic Exchange and World Resources Institute found that we need to cut emissions by 6.6% every year until 2050 to meet the Paris Agreement, which really puts a window on how bad the situation is. Their analysis highlights three key areas where Hong Kong has the greatest potential to reduce emissions, namely from improving electricity generation, making buildings more energy efficient and improving sustainability of transport. With the vast number of skyscrapers in Hong Kong and so much traffic on the road, it’s very clear that there is still a lot of work to do. 

However, despite these difficulties, we have still maintained our pledge of all delegate fees going to charity, as our commitment from the beginning has been to stage an impactful event while supporting our chosen NGOs (Feeding Hong Kong and Soap Cycling), which is all the more important in these difficult times. 

Regarding ReThink, we have one of the best speaker line-ups Hong Kong has seen, we have amazing support from our key stakeholders and all attendees are vetted and approved  so it will definitely be a purposeful event, with a delegate list that is authorised and empowered to drive change.

The virus has resulted in a different event to the one we designed 18 months ago – the perspectives will be vastly different because all these businesses have gone through an extremely challenging time and they all have different experiences as to how they have adapted to the pandemic. It’s not a big jump to apply these transformations as a result of COVID-19 to the environmental and social changes that we are asking them to adopt as well.

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What Attracted You to the Environmental Sphere in Hong Kong?

I am a sustainability enthusiast and when I was living in the UK, I had a garden with a composting heap and vegetable garden. The council was also really good at recycling so it was relatively easy to live a sustainable lifestyle which changed a lot when I moved to Hong Kong. It’s not impossible to be sustainable, it’s just extremely difficult. 

I did extensive analysis of sustainability events in Hong Kong (as planning high-value business events is my area of expertise) and what impact they were having. After a lot of consultations and research, where I went out and spoke to businesses about what sustainability means to them, I realised that this is an area lacking credibility in the city. I then decided to create an event that could add value to the existing dialogues by curating a programme that focuses on the ‘how’ not the ‘why’ and bringing together corporate and enterprise stakeholders that want to make a difference. ReThink is not about bringing the who’s who in sustainability, but about bringing in new organisations and making driving sustainable development attractive within your organisation. There are different ways of getting people excited about sustainability: you can show them the risks of standing still or you can show them the opportunities of adapting – the opportunity to run a better business, to engage with your community or to have a more positive impact across your value chain. My hope is that organisations want to change the way they operate as consumer behaviour changes and they’ll rather spend their money with companies who are demonstrating there is another way to operate.

I also hope that the government implements more stringent, and globally proven, regulation so that businesses have to change the way they operate. 

Do You Think That it’s the Government’s Mandate to Encourage Sustainability?

Absolutely. The news that the municipal charging waste scheme has been withdrawn after a decade of debate and negotiations shows that something is wrong. I think I am confident in saying that governments believe that businesses wouldn’t want to pay, but there are proven models around the world that show that businesses will pay if the model is right and effective. 

We could turn the waste problem in Hong Kong into an opportunity for the city to become a regional leader in recycling- there is no reason why the government cannot make the necessary investment into this. There is a saying that “waste is just a resource in the wrong place;” if we put the infrastructure in and provide businesses with incentives to opt in to these services, we can create a whole new economy in Hong Kong, one that creates jobs and provides revenue. 

An example of this is a partnership between Baguio and Swire Beverages, where they’re establishing Hong Kong’s first dedicated PET and HDPE Recycling Facility. This is a great example of private businesses working to make a change but perhaps this should be the government’s responsibility instead of relying on the private sector. 

ReThink gives businesses a stage to talk about the challenges they’ve faced, how they’ve overcome them and the advice that they have for other stakeholders. 

Collaboration is open to everyone, and we hope that ReThink becomes the event in Hong Kong that enables effective solutions to be implemented and for this dialogue about the opportunities that becoming more sustainable will bring. It’s a shame that it’s taken something like COVID-19 to wake people up, but at least people are waking up.

ReThink will take place on September 2 & 3 at K11 Atelier King’s Road, Hong Kong. Sponsors of the event include HSBC, Cathay Pacific, SAP, CLP, Eaton, Impossible and InvestHK.

ReThink has been designed for professionals who are driven by, or challenged with, sustainability goals for their business or organisation and the event will answer a question that is vitally important for businesses in Hong Kong: how can we help businesses accelerate change towards a more sustainable future?

The event provides a platform for businesses, government and not-for-profit organisations to collaborate with each other to work towards a more sustainable world. Delegates can discuss how to implement actionable practices while meeting providers with deployable technology and real solutions. 

To see the program of the event, click here.

If the world is to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG13), which demands urgent action to tackle the climate crisis, companies in every sector must act. So-called ‘green business’ refers to a model in which companies have no negative impact on the environment, economy or community. However, is ‘green growth’ little more than a myth? 

Consumer perception is shifting with a green goal in mind. Products, foods and lifestyles with a high carbon footprint are seeing a decline in popularity as consumer awareness of environmental issues increases. A study from PwC found that over 60% of consumers believe that climate-related issues are the most important issues facing the world, with 75% saying that they have changed their consumption patterns towards a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle. 

With consumer demands changing, sustainability has become a buzz word for businesses. This is illustrated in a statement from the Governor of the Bank of England in early 2019, which says that companies that do not adjust to a net-zero world by 2050 ‘will fail to exist’. 

The Importance of Sustainability in Business

Sustainable business must go beyond the typical corporate social responsibility agenda and step up as leaders of a green revolution instead of waiting for the government to deliver solutions. As pointed out by Olivia Sibony, CEO at SeedTribe, “businesses are uniquely positioned to find innovative solutions to address SDG13 in a way that is financially attractive.” Businesses must therefore prioritise the planet in their bottom lines, following a ‘triple bottom line’ model where people, planet and profit are given equal weighting. 

Among the leaders of the rapidly-growing green growth push include The Global Investors for Sustainable Development (GISD), comprising of CEOs from 30 of the world’s biggest companies. The GISD includes global firms such as UBS, Santander and Aviva, who have promised to improve their investments in achieving the UN’s SDGs. They aim to do this through revisiting existing and new business models to align with the SDGs, creating portfolios for sustainable investments and addressing any obstacles to long-term investment in sustainable development. This is followed by the recent news that activist hedge fund TCI, which manages assets worth £22 billion, has pledged to target directors of large companies to disclose their carbon emissions. Sir Christopher Hohn, founder of TCI, says, “investing in a company that doesn’t disclose its pollution is like investing in a company that doesn’t disclose its balance sheet.” 

The IMF’s October 2019 report states that environmental, social and governance (ESG) funds are small in quantity but fast growing, representing $850 billion in assets (less than 2% of the total global investment fund assets under management). The IMF also points out that a lack of consistent definitions over what constitutes ESG investments means that global asset size estimates range from $3 trillion (J.P. Morgan, 2019) to $31 trillion (Global Sustainable Investment Alliance 2019). However, climate-concerned investors are on the rise: with over 1,715 signatories representing $81.7 trillion in assets under management, the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) is an obvious example. This initiative helps to accelerate the integration of ESG into decision-making through guidance and investment analysis. The PRI recently forecasted that tighter government climate regulations by 2025 could wipe up to $2.3 trillion in company valuations in industries ranging from fossil fuel producers to car producers. The pressure on companies to increase their transparency and accountability in the face of a climate emergency is a sure sign that the dominant model of business-as-usual is becoming irrelevant. 

Green Growth or Greenwash? 

This ‘green gold rush’ poses a fundamental question of whether companies are advocating for sustainability because they have a genuine intrinsic care for the environment or if they’re exploiting the discourse surrounding sustainability in order to grow their bottom line. 

Debates and questions of such ‘greenwashing’ are increasingly rife. Greenwashing is the process of painting a false picture about the sustainability of a company’s products with an aim of capitalising on consumer trends. Common examples include oil companies featuring the importance of biodiversity on their websites whilst continuing to be the force behind its destruction. Futerra’s 2015 Selling Sustainability Report offers 10 basic rules for avoiding greenwashing, including being wary of ‘green’ products from a ‘dirty’ company, irrelevant claims, and ‘fluffy language’. 

The Sustainable Business Model

Helping consumers to distinguish between ‘green’ and ‘greenwash’ is the growth of ‘B Corporations’. So-called B Corps must go through rigorous externally-led analysis that measures their environmental and social impact, from supply-chain to community engagement, to gain a B Corp certification. Accountability must be legally built into the sustainable business model, balancing people, planet and profits as part of the global movement calling for business to be a force for good’. The B Corp Directory helps consumers navigate over 3000 B Corps in 150 industries. 

The corporate world is faced with increasing pressure to adapt to a more sustainable business landscape from both investors and consumers. With climate-consciousness and calls for corporate transparency on the rise, it won’t be long before businesses who have no regard for the environment will be left behind. Global Head of Sustainability at Capgemini, James Robey says, “We firmly believe that those organisations failing to grasp the sustainability agenda will cease to operate in the hard realities of the environment beyond 2030.” 

The increasing divestment of large hedge funds and financiers away from companies that do not disclose their carbon emissions or adapt their business model makes this proposition even more of a reality. 

Climate change presents an opportunity for transformational change in the business world; green growth can be a reality if greenwashing is left behind and transparency and real change are prioritised. Businesses must look to overcome the fundamental challenges of this transition and focus on balancing planet, people and profit.

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