About LAS

LAS is an award-winning provider of elearning consultancy, design, development and training services in the UK and internationally. 

Established in 2005 as LearningAge Solutions, we work with some of the best known organisations in the world to boost their performance through the innovative use of learning technologies. Working in partnership with our customers, we draw on proven principles from human behaviour, how people learn and how the brain works to create impactful digital learning solutions with real return on investment.

About Tess Robinson

Photo of Tess Robinson

Tess is a director of LAS. She has worked in a learning environment for over twenty years. First, as a senior manager in universities, moving into digital learning ten years ago.

10 essential skills for sustainability

By Tess Robinson
Posted 23 May 2024

For many years, I have been a huge advocate for sustainable business practices and the powerful and important role that Learning & Development can play in helping organisations to become more sustainable. The skills we have in L&D in influencing behaviour, supporting skills development and fostering community are, in my opinion, exactly what is needed to move the sustainability agenda forward.

But exactly what skills do we need to be developing within our organisations? I get asked this question a lot, so here are my thoughts.

There is, of course, a whole raft of new technical skills needed to support a transition to a greener, more sustainable economy. For example, heat pump maintenance, solar panel installation or carbon accounting. L&D, of course, has an important role to play in training people for these new job roles.

These practical skills are often the ones that take centre stage when sustainability or green skills are discussed. However, alongside a basic understanding of sustainability concepts, I believe there are some really important wider non-vocational / non-technical skills that are, not only essential to sustainability, but good all-round for innovation and being future-fit.

The World Economic Forum says:
‘To meet today’s global sustainability challenges, the corporate world needs more than a few chief sustainability officers – it needs an army of employees, in all areas of business, thinking about sustainability in their decisions every day’. 

Here are my top 10 skills for sustainability:

1. Sustainability / environmental literacy
A basic understanding of issues such as climate change and biodiversity loss and how organisations will be affected by them, is important for all employees, not just those working in ESG. 

The ONS’ Opinions and Lifestyle Survey found that around three in four adults (74%) reported feeling (very or somewhat) worried about climate change. Increasing employee literacy around the topic shows them how they can positively affect the climate, even if they’re not in a ‘green’ job. This also has the effect of giving your employees a bit of agency, which is important for maintaining good mental health in the face of big challenges. 

2. Critical thinking and problem solving skills
Critical thinking encourages us not to take things at face value, but instead to become proactive agents who are able to set aside our biases and assumptions, to analyse and reflect on available evidence and arguments to form rational judgements. It enables us to move past established ways of working (if necessary) and to solve challenges in a creative way, before they become major problems. For many people, this is not an especially comfortable way to work, at least, to start with. Like most of the skills mentioned in this article, this one requires practice, ideally in a safe space where mistakes can be made without real-world consequences.

3. Systems thinking skills
Systems thinking is rarely done in organisations, although it is slowly starting to become more widely used. In my opinion, this skill could have the biggest positive impact. The world we live in is getting more and more complex. There are so many interdependencies that are poorly understood. Systems thinking provides a powerful framework for seeing the interconnections and understanding the whole system, so that we can make more informed decisions. It prevents just the symptoms being fixed and enables us to focus on root causes.

4. Creativity and innovation skills
Big problems need creative solutions and this is something that us humans are really strong at. Unfortunately the school system, at least in the UK, doesn’t really foster creativity and innovation, so people enter the workforce with skills gaps in this area. 

We’re also often given the impression that creativity is innate and gifted to the chosen few but, in fact, that’s not the case - it is definitely also something that can be learned. Critical to creativity is to listen and be open to different perspectives, experiences and opinions. 

5. Sustainable leadership skills
Sustainable leadership isn’t just for Heads of ESG, it’s important for all leaders to have a level of competency in sustainability, not least, because it feeds into risk management and increasingly legal and financial areas. It’s simply not enough to leave it to the ESG team. As Dr Lena Wang from RMIT University says; ‘strong leadership is needed to inspire and support action that will lead to a better business and, in turn, a better community and a better world. Without this, sustainability has little chance of achieving traction’. Sustainability needs to be baked into all the leadership training you do - it’s that important. 

6. Design thinking skills
Design thinking is a human-centred approach to problem solving and innovation and another tool we can use to find sustainable. workable answers to the considerable challenges we face. This approach enables us to challenge assumptions, experiment and prototype solutions. It also ensures that we're solving the right problems, not just what we think the problems are.

7. Analytics and Data skills
Data is important to sustainability efforts and analysis skills will help make the most of the insights it can offer. Data can help us understand where we currently are in our sustainability efforts, where we want to get to, where we can improve and how we’re progressing.

Data gives us tangible targets to aim at, whilst also helping to tell the story about our journey to improvement. Increasingly, there are also legislative demands around data reporting so these skills are only going to become more important.

8. Communication skills
Being able to effectively communicate what sustainability means within your organisation will create a common understanding and help people to coalesce around sustainability goals. Communicating to your customers, suppliers and other stakeholders is also really important BUT it absolutely must not just be ‘greenwashing’ (looking sustainable but with little real positive real-world impact), as they will see through that very quickly. Greenwashing carries a strong risk of reputational damage and the erosion of trust, neither of which are good for business. 

Communication skills need to be very well honed and on-point, as it’s so vital to get it right. Communication is such an important skill in propelling sustainable change forward for all our benefits. As climate scientist, Katharine Hayhoe, says in her Ted Talk, ‘the most important thing you can do to fight climate change is to talk about it’.

9. Collaboration and teamwork skills
Noone can crack sustainability alone, it takes a community. From organisational initiatives, to industry initiatives, to wide-scale societal change. It takes all of us. We need to develop the skills that enable us to make the most of it when we come together and pool resources to solve problems better and really make an impact. The Green L&D Group (join us if you’re on LinkedIn) is a good example of an industry community that has come together to share best practice and learn from each other. 

10. Emotional intelligence
Last but not least, according to Harvard Business School’s definition, emotional intelligence (EQ) ‘is the ability to understand and manage your emotions and the emotions of others’. Why is this important when it comes to sustainability? Well some aspects of sustainability, such as gender equality, are highly politicised and some, such as climate change, are nothing short of existential. These are not neutral topics and they require high levels of empathy, self-regulation and social skills in order to be able to address them effectively. Fortunately, there are a range of skills we can develop, such as self-awareness, self-reflection and active listening that can help us develop our EQ.

That was a quick run-down through my top 10 skills for sustainability. I’ll cover some of them in more detail in future posts. It’s important to understand that these skills are not just essential for sustainability - they can help us with many of the huge macro-economic and technological challenges that we are currently dealing with. What would your top 10 look like?

Contact us 
Sign up for the free Learning eXperience Design course