5 essential skills for sustainability managers

#news and trends  •  26/10/2022  •  Marije Jennes & Katelijne Norga

The job of a sustainability manager today is more complex than ever: defining a low-carbon strategy, setting targets, KPIs and action plans, compiling the sustainability report, engaging your colleagues, communicating about your efforts and achievements ... To do all this successfully, you need to develop a variety of skills.

The job of sustainability manager is gaining ground. Proof of this is the growing number of vacancies from companies looking for a rara avis to manage all the processes surrounding sustainability. An academic course to become a sustainability manager does not yet exist in Belgium. The job takes shape on the go and is currently subject to many new evolutions.

For instance, Europe will soon impose all kinds of new obligations on businesses involving corporate sustainability. Your sustainability report should not only look back at the previous year. You should also come up with clear and achievable roadmaps, targets and KPIs.

Thus, reporting is much more than having your annual report ready on time. It requires a fundamental approach:

  • Are the targets in your strategy keeping pace with the ever stricter ambitions and requirements demanded by legislation and stakeholders?
  • How do you draw up the right action plans to meet your targets?
  • How do you keep up with the fast-changing developments in the sustainability world?
  • Which KPIs do you use to measure progress?
  • How do you train your team?
  • And how do you motivate everyone to help implement the action plans in your organization?
Central figure

Even thematically speaking the domain of sustainability has broadened. Whereas an environmental or sustainability manager mainly used to ensure compliancy with environmental legislation, you now have to take a much broader view. For instance, the CSRD (Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive) introduces a set of (draft) reporting standards that determine how you should report and on which topics. The topics range from climate, biodiversity, water and marine ecosystems over safety and health of employees and people in the value chain to governance policy, with themes such as anti-corruption, fraud, human rights in the supply chain ...


All this means that, as a sustainability manager, you can no longer be a mere expert with a passion, but rather your role becomes that of key figure in the organization. Not only do you have to have the right knowledge and manage to keep up with fast-moving evolutions. As sustainability manager, you also need to connect with just about every department in the organization: operations, HR, finance, purchasing, R&D, communication, marketing …


5 essential skills

The new sustainability manager needs a whole set of skills to serve all his or her internal and external stakeholders. According to us, these skills are essential to play your role with verve:


1. Leadership


Being a sustainability manager requires your heart and soul. You are imbued with the higher purpose you want to achieve within your organization and want nothing more than to have as much positive impact as possible on the world around us. To achieve that, you have to convince groups of people to work together on a common goal or plan, coordinate the activities of different people and gain their personal commitment. As a sustainability manager, you will therefore need a lot of leadership skills to train, coordinate and motivate your teams.


2. Communication skills


Being a sustainability manager is a veritable people job. Meetings, interviews, workshops ... You will not lack contact with colleagues. Communication skills are therefore a bonus. To get everyone in the company moving in the same direction and to enthuse and motivate your colleagues during the implementation of various sustainability programmes.

You will have to explain the importance of the carbon economy and sustainable transition countless times, while communicating your company's sustainable narrative non-stop to your colleagues. Your ultimate mission is to convince every employee in your organization to become a true ambassador of your sustainable mission.

You also want to get your organization's external stakeholders on board with your company's positive impact, so you will map out a communication plan for those key audiences as well.


3. Problem-solving skills


Whether it concerns determining the environmental impact of an expansion of your site, drawing up a CO2 reduction plan or exposing impacts on human rights throughout the supply chain: a sustainability manager is expected to solve many problems.

You surround yourself with internal and external experts to continuously come up with innovative solutions to complex sustainability issues within your organization. This way, you build up the know-how necessary to make the most important decisions. If you are blessed with good problem-solving skills, you will be able to generate all the more impact as a sustainability manager.


4. Balance technical knowledge with a general view


Of course, as a sustainability manager, you need to have basic technical knowledge. You should know the production processes in your company inside out and have a thorough understanding of the science behind environmental issues such as climate change. You are also a walking encyclopedia on environmental legislation, international sustainability frameworks and certificates, all while following recent evolutions in the broad field of sustainability.

Yet you excel precisely because of your overarching, general view, which makes you well-placed to keep all the balls in the air. Generally, you prefer not to be the technical owner of every KPI, but you do keep an eye on the most important data and make sure everyone stays on track.


5. A feeling for numbers and budgets


Sustainability is also about hard numbers. About targets and KPIs that have to be in line with scientific recommendations. Having a feeling for data, data visualization and dashboarding is a must.

Additionally, there is a strong link between sustainability and a company's financial picture. Just think about investments in sustainable innovation or the financial risks of climate change. Financial knowledge and business skills will serve you well when calculating sustainable investment growth and budgeting for future expenses.

We can help you from start to finish!

Even the most seasoned sustainability managers can sometimes feel that they are in over their head. Are you looking for a sparring partner who really works with you to create sustainable impact in the workplace? Or would you like to outsource reporting or another part of your responsibilities?

We would be happy to help you with:


  • the development and implementation of a sustainable strategy
  • drawing up a roadmap with targets, sub-targets and KPIs
  • your sustainability report, both the process and production itself
  • your internal activation, to get all employees on board
  • your external communication, to share all your achievements and realizations with the outside world

Contact us at

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