It remains to be seen how much climate change will affect the expected skill sets for employees in industries less immediately affected by climate change than, say, civil engineering or catastrophe bonds.
But even companies in industries that would appear to be less directly affected by climate change are tuning into the issue.
Winston, who consults with a variety of businesses to help them get ahead of global trends – one of which is climate change – points to Unilever. The mega-corporation, which makes everything from Dove soap to Magnum ice cream, has pledged serious action on a variety of sustainability initiatives – including sourcing 100% of its energy for production from renewable sources by 2030 (it already cut its carbon emissions by 43% from 2008 to 2016). Other companies are working on similarly ambitious initiatives: Coca-Cola, Ikea and Walmart also have committed to 100% renewable energy.
If it seems odd that companies seem to be talking the kind of talk heard more at NGOs, it shouldn’t. For one, it appeals to consumers. Recent research by Cone Communications, a PR agency for consumer brands, found that 87% of Americans said they would purchase a product because of a company’s alignment on an issue they cared about. It also attracts would-be workers: nearly two-thirds of millennials – the generation that will make up half of all US employees by 2020 – said they take a company’s social and environmental commitments into account when weighing a job offer.
But it isn’t just about brand appeal. As Unilever outlines on its site, cutting waste and energy use, for example, means cutting both costs and exposure to price volatility. (The company says it already has shaved €700 million in costs since 2008 in this area alone).
Corporate interest in climate change mitigation is also, of course, out of concern for global economic health. One 2016 study found that simply the effect of rising temperatures on workers’ productivity, particularly in already-warm climates like Asia and Africa, could cost the global economy more than $2 trillion by 2030.
“The change in discussions in corporate boardrooms, and companies in general, on climate has been pretty profound,” says Winston. “There isn’t a large company in the world that isn’t talking about sustainability or climate. It’s just not possible to operate your business without talking about this.”
Those factors may help explain why executives of companies from Goldman Sachs to Facebook expressed anger at President Trump’s announcement to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Agreement. Some US CEOs, including Walt Disney’s Bob Iger and Tesla’s Elon Musk, resigned from the president’s advisory board in protest.
Another signifier of how much corporations are not only taking climate change seriously, but also valuing climate-related skills, is in the salaries they’re paying people with that kind of expertise.
In 2016, a survey of employees working in the corporate responsibility and sustainability sector, most of whom were in North America or Europe, found that the average salary was £61,000 ($87,000 in 2016 values); 12% of respondents earned £100,000 ($143,000) or more. Even in the UK, where the average salary was under that at £57,000, the average corporate responsibility professional pulled in twice the amount of the average full-time UK employee – who in 2016 made £28,000.