The Green Skill All Employers Will Need

Best-selling author Daniel Goleman explains why firms will need employees to both think and work with sustainability in mind. 

Daniel Goleman is a senior consultant at Goleman Consulting Group, author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence, and host of the podcast First Person Plural: Emotional Intelligence and Beyond. He is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. 

The debate about corporate values—particularly profit versus purpose—continues to intensify. Just last month, nearly 3,000 global leaders, including more than 350 representatives from government and 47 heads of state, came together in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2023 meeting. Though criticized as being “out of touch,” this annual gathering presents a rare opportunity to address the relationship between purpose and profit—one of the only times so many powerful people come together to connect and discuss the future of our economies, societies, and planet.

Alongside the war in Ukraine, climate change was at the top of WEF’s agenda. Though WEF acknowledges a global energy transition is already in the works, they remind us that far more is needed in order to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of a warming planet. Davos itself is evidence: the small Swiss town, which sits at an altitude of over 5,000 feet, saw very little snow this winter due to a rare January heat wave. Since 1971, when the WEF’s very first annual meeting took place in Davos, the snowpack in the Alps has thinned by over 40% on average.

Verena Augustin, director of experience consulting at PwC Germany, was one of a few at Davos to emphasize the need for a more inclusive and systemic approach to addressing climate change. “I think we need to shift into a low-ego, high-impact mindset,” she was quoted as saying, “I’ve been working in innovation for the last 15 years, and it was always about individual needs—consumer driven, consumer centricity—and we really need to embrace an ecosystem view that is inclusive for all stakeholders… the planet as one of [them].”

Augustin emphasized the need to move away from thinking primarily about driving growth, instead promoting a mindset that considers how to drive value more collaboratively. She advocates for an ecosystem approach—one that considers how behaviors at all levels impact large-scale change.

This mindset is a great example of a green skill—a way of thinking that can help companies make their economic activities more environmentally sustainable. The green workforce isn’t just in need of climate scientists and renewable energy engineers; it also requires people with the capacity to think and act more holistically and systematically.

According to LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky, companies seeking to improve their environmental impact will need to look beyond a résumé when hiring new talent. “Governments, companies, and individuals all need to come together to help transition the hiring market from focusing solely on titles and companies, degrees and schools, to also focusing on skills and abilities,” he writes in LinkedIn’s 2022 Global Green Skills Report, a document outlining how workforce trends have shifted in response to the changing global economy.

LinkedIn reports that job postings requiring green skills have increased by 8% over the past five years, even though the green talent pool has only grown by 6% during the same period. To achieve a net-zero planet—a world where greenhouse-gas emissions are virtually nonexistent—it’s estimated that companies will need to create more than 300 million additional green-collar jobs by 2050.

As more and more sectors consider how to operate more sustainably, they face questions around how to best upskill the workforce. In 2021, President Biden issued an executive order outlining an ambitious path to mainstreaming sustainability within the Federal workforce. His plan involves building internal capacity through engagement, education, and training on Federal sustainability, climate adaptation, and environmental stewardship. Meanwhile, higher education has played its own role: last June, Boston University brought together researchers and leaders in climate change for a congressional briefing on how to build a workforce to meet the global challenges around sustainability.

While “green skills” have often been associated with jobs within the environmental sector, their definition has become increasingly flexible. According to LinkedIn, most jobs requiring green skills encompass not only traditional green industries like solar and wind, but also roles across just about every sector of employment. Green skills are less and less about technical expertise and more and more about how a person thinks about the role decarbonization plays (or doesn’t play) in their approach to doing business.

Maybe this is what Roslansky means when he encourages companies to go beyond the résumé. The deeper we get into the ecological crisis, the more we are encouraged to question our decisions, including how we evaluate people’s ability to come up with new and innovative solutions to saving the planet.

As they say, “What got us here won’t get us out.”

Becoming more and more sustainable—considering both purpose and profit—might require hiring people who have a more connected and inclusive way of seeing the world.

Co-written by Elizabeth Solomon

Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.