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Moving from 'should' to 'shall'
A universal sustainability competence framework would need to work in many different ways and incorporate many different things. And it would need to do it quickly.
As we get deeper into current projects, we’re thinking more and more about the topic we raised in our post earlier this year about how a ‘definitive’ green skills framework might look. In fact, in terms of our attention span, we have to say it comes second only to our incredulity that the designers of the ‘hyperjade’ Springbok World Cup away kit might even have thought for a fraction of a second that your typical South African would think ‘yep, Faf looks just lekker in that’.
Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie
Sticking with the framework, though, in our minds this has all gone way beyond simply defining ‘green skills’ and now embraces the whole gamut of ‘sustainability competences’. In other words, not simply covering the functional job skills we might see in groupings like engineering and technical, science, operation management, and monitoring, as we find from UNIDO, but also the cultural and human competences that we find in frameworks like GreenComp. By the way, we discussed this point in our post in July.
Certainly, a universal sustainability competence framework would need to fulfil all the purposes of any such framework: for talent management in areas like job design, recruitment, succession planning and performance measurement; for workforce planning, resource allocation and capacity building; for learning and development from top-down corporate levels to bottom-up personal development; for certification, accreditation and even licence-to-practice; for standardisation and compliance; and for the recognition that while the blue chips might crow about their own sustainability achievements, something like 90% of global businesses, representing around one-half of the global workforce, are small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) that don’t have the same luxury and just need something that is comprehensive, clear and as near as possible off-the-shelf.
A universal sustainability competence framework would also need to recognise the full scope of sustainability, incorporating the human demands for economic and social well-being alongside the preservation of the world we live in. To that end, we see plenty of ‘almost-there’ solutions, like this one from The Brookings Institution which – while tending to label the whole thing ‘green’ – does provide some sort of blend of functional skills and human capabilities to address each of the three pillars of sustainability.
So, what might this framework and others be missing? Here are a few thoughts…
First, a recognition that much of the restoration of a sustainable world will be achieved through the codes of practice of professional communities in the front line of the sustainability transition.
A few weeks ago we posted on the efforts of one such community: Design. In the post, we noted the the Design Council’s mission is to build among its membership a culture of Design for Planet. As a follow up, we looked at the code of practice for the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and did indeed find that amongst this design sub-community at least, sustainability is writ (relatively) large. We were particularly interested in the distinctions in RIBA between what its Chartered Practices should (advisory) and shall (mandatory) do. Among the shoulds we see ‘consider the impact of each project on the natural environment’ and ‘promote sustainable design and development’; while the shalls include ‘advocate the design, construction, and operation of sustainable buildings and communities’ and ‘encourage clients to adopt sustainable practices at the earliest opportunity’. More emphasis on doing as we say rather than doing as we do, perhaps? Or are we just quibbling?
Moving along the Construction and Built Environment value chain, we come to another critical professional community for sustainability: Engineers (in this case, the Civil variety). Around half a million professional engineers of all flavours in the UK according to some estimates, with something approaching half of those being registered with the Engineering Council. The Council publishes its own guidance on sustainability, encouraging engineers to contribute and take leadership for sustainability, use resources efficiently, manage sustainability risks and recognise sustainability as a ‘wicked’ problem. More specifically, and going back to our civil engineers, the code of professional conduct from the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) gives us a welcome ‘shall’:
All members shall show due regard for the environment and for the sustainable management of natural resources.
In all the work that members do, they must be able to demonstrate, by an appropriate audit trail, that they have taken all reasonable steps to take account of all the relevant factors in relation to the impact upon the environment and the sustainable management of natural resources. It is increasingly the case that engineers are called to account for their decisions, especially where projects are controversial or are opposed by particular interest groups.
Source: ICE Code of Professional Conduct (Rule 4)
So, codes of practice for professional communities are important and we might expect to see more and more of them building in sustainability clauses as we go on. One example might be the fashion industry. While the British Fashion Council’s (BFC) code of conduct doesn’t appear to contain much around sustainability right now, it does tell us that through the Institute of Positive Fashion (IPF) it ‘is working on a 10-year strategy to enable the industry to reduce climate and societal impact in line with UN goals’. That’s good, although we have to say that ten years seems rather a long time for an industry that changes its wardrobe four times a year.
But how do codes of conduct translate to skills and competences? Well, going back to the engineers, we find the Engineering Council has endorsed a new framework called the Global Responsibility Compass from Engineers Without Borders (EWB). In our opinion, EWB’s strategy gets to the heart of the matter: it wants to change the culture of engineering. That’s a big one. Remembering our own engineering training (albeit some years ago) it’s hard to emphasise how radical a core curriculum with diversity, equity and social justice, and social and ecological wellbeing sitting alongside subjects like thermodynamics, fluid mechanics and engineering structures would have seemed to us. But assuming the Engineering Council is not simply paying lip service to its endorsement of the EWB Global Responsibility Compass and takes steps to implement it into its standards and code of conduct, then we guess this is exactly what we could be seeing in the fullness of time.
Global Responsibility Compass for Engineering. Image: EWB.
Looking at the way competences are represented in the compass above also illustrates another thing that we consider might be missing in many of the frameworks we examine, and that is levels of proficiency. Whether degrees of proficiency correspond to particular levels of qualification, or seniority in businesses or projects, or perhaps career stages at which a person can be deemed responsible, granted authority and be held accountable for outcome, depends on how the framework is being applied at any one time. Whatever, our universal sustainability competence framework should support the recognition of levels of proficiency in all the applications for which it is used.
Which gets us to our final missing piece, for this post at least. And that is the recognition that while we might end up with a ‘lake’ of competences such as we see in the Brookings example above, the reality is that different combinations of these competences – each, perhaps, with its own associated level of proficiency – are needed for the myriad of different focus areas associated with the green transition. Retrofit project? Well, we need one person who can advise on X and lead at Y, and another who can assist at Y and enable Z. We might even call one an ‘assessor’ and another a ‘technician’, but hey, let’s not get too hung up on occupations being tied too closely to skillsets at this stage.
After all, we don’t have the luxury of too much time for procrastination, do we.
Not to be confused with the number of people in total employed within the engineering industry, which is more like 6 million.