The world will be sustainable or it will not be. The phrase is pronounced by Helena Viñes, advisor to BNP Paribas in Paris and new advisor to the National Securities Market Commission (CNMV), where she will begin work next May. Viñes is part of a new batch of executives who are experts in sustainability who are stepping up due to this change that is taking place towards a more respectful world with the environment and aware of the scarcity of resources that translates into many appointments, creation of commissions in boards of directors and new roles in organizations. A world that recently still represented for many companies and organizations the possibility of a facelift with their philanthropic or marketing actions.
But in the last two or three years, the perception has changed, says Mónica Chao, who just made her debut this week as Director of Sustainability at Ikea in Spain: “Now there is a real need to link sustainability with the main business of companies” . And this has led companies to relentlessly search for managers who are experts in sustainability, the environment, climate change, circular economy, energy transition …, professionals who are not in abundance and who need to address the transition to the new economy, explains Krista Walochik, partner of the recruitment firm Talengo, which accounts for the increase in mandates to hire this type of executives, as well as Antonio Núñez, managing partner of Parangon & Partners, who appreciates that the demand has accelerated a lot with the crisis.
Signing sustainability directors, far from being a fad, will be an obligation, according to Viñes, who explains that BNP requires all carbo-intensive companies in which it invests to have a person or a committee in charge of these issues and that at least one of the members of the board of directors has experience in them. The new European legislation, both in terms of good governance and sustainable finance, of which she is an expert; the pressure of investors and social movements, as well as a genuine part of companies that realize that it is essential to take care of the environment, society and its corporate governance to stay in the market, are leading to change, Add. Because sustainability has an economic impact, says Mónica Chao: it affects the income statement.
In addition, the fact that Europe wants to lead the action against global climate change and has conditioned a large part of the funds for the recovery to the ecological transition is another spur for Spanish firms to get to work urgently. As Atlantic Copper has done with the creation last March of the Directorate of Energy Transition and Sustainability and the signing of Esther Alonso to lead it in order to “align the company’s strategy with the commitments established in the European Union Green Pact” . The company has an ambitious circular economy metal recycling project, for which it has requested funds from Brussels, and this requires a high level of dialogue with the administrations.
“The change in the economic model has accelerated tremendously and it is necessary for companies to have sustainability directors with a global vision to face it,” says Esther Alonso, convinced that the throwaway economy is coming to an end and that the Environmental challenges require companies to make a huge effort to remain competitive. There the role of this manager is key.
For all these reasons, the professional profiles of executives demanded today are not the same as five or ten years ago, when these positions were held by specialists in corporate social responsibility, communication or marketing. This background is still found among internally appointed directors, says Krista Walochic, but in external hiring, professionals from the world of science or law prevail with strategic vision, planning capacity and weight in the executive committee because the greatest challenge What senior management currently has is how to transfer social, environmental and good governance criteria to the business process, how to introduce them into the strategy while maintaining profitability, he adds.
Specialists with strategic vision are called for who can contribute to the business, more technical profiles than before, supports Chao, who will be in charge of bringing Ikea’s sustainability strategy – which this year will invest 600 million euros in it worldwide – to a second level, after entering the second-hand business and having 3,700 sustainable references that account for 32% of sales in Spain.
The three specialist directives consulted for this article are an example of this more executive profile. Two economists and a mining engineer, all with several master’s degrees to their credit, and in the case of Viñes and Alonso, with experience in European institutions. They have a 20-year background in sustainability and head of the area in different organizations.
“Companies are looking for a minimum of between 10 and 20 years of experience and people with the capacity to dialogue with their stakeholders, since these executives are evangelists, with the ability to convince and draw; to research and drive innovation, as well as to attract and manage funds ”, continues Walochic.
The salaries that sustainability directors can access range between 80,000 and 130,000 euros per year, according to Antonio Nuñez, depending on the project, the size of the company, the importance of the position in the company, since only one in four are part of the steering committee, says the expert from Talengo; etc.
But many of these professionals are guided more by purpose. That of Helena Viñes on the CNMV’s board of directors is “to support the industry to make that inevitable transition and to outline sustainability as something that marks, together with digitization, the two most valuable inputs that will define its competitiveness in the future”.
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