Head of sustainability salaries revealed

The average salary for a head of sustainability role in tops $300,000, with women earning slightly more than men, according to research from specialist recruitment agency Talent Nation.

Talent Nation collected information from over 200 companies in Australia and New Zealand, across a variety of industries and locations. The average salary was $314,159, but there are differences based on location and industry sector, noted Richard Evans, managing director, Talent Nation, which specialises in recruiting for the environmental and sustainability fields.

Typically, heads of sustainability at companies now report directly into executive committees, and the capabilities and skill sets of sustainability professionals has evolved over the past decade, Evans said.

“Investors are really interested in this space now, so companies need to have a climate risk strategy,” Evans said. “Because investors are paying attention, the board and executives are paying attention. Sustainability isn’t just about a community program or philanthropic programs or volunteering – there needs to be a strategic plan liked the overall business strategy.”

Interestingly, sustainability is one corporate discipline where the gender salary gap swings in favour of women – according to Talent Nation’s research, the top three salaries of heads of sustainability were paid to women, and across all sustainability roles (adviser, senior adviser and head), women were paid 2.3% higher than their male counterparts. However, the report noted that while all other roles in the sustainability sector had a higher ratio of women to men, the head of sustainability position was held by more males than females.

Geographically, salaries for heads of sustainability are “significantly higher” in New South Wales than Victoria – on average, $323,592 in NSW and $274,941 in Victoria. The top salary packages are for those working mining and metals, at an average remuneration of $42.,532, with financials on average paying $373,778, real estate paying $307,057, consumer discretionary and staples paying $298,417, and $268,143.

Salaries for heads of remuneration were 12% higher at ASX-listed companies than private or non-listed entities, $324,331 to $288,825.

The sustainability specialty can require a varying set of skills, depending on the company, its sector, as well as other factors, Evans said.

“Often that depends on the organisation, and it depends on where the role sits as well, and it depends on the skill set they’re leaning towards,” he said. “Some organisations see sustainability and see it as environmental sustainability. They have a strong asset base and they want to look at the performance of those assets and how do you drive energy performance. They’re looking at renewables and bringing that into the mix.

“You might have an organisation with a strong social focus on sustainability, so it’s a different skill set again.”

Larger companies that put the head of sustainability in a vice-president role, overseeing people with technical functions, would dictate a specialist in sustainability leadership, Evans noted.

Equally, heads of sustainability sit in different areas of a business, and should be seated in the area of a business “where you’re going to get the greatest leverage,” and the adaptability of the role is a strength of the discipline, Evans said.

“The classic thing with sustainability is if you ask 20 people to define sustainability, you get 20 different responses, and generally they’ll all report to different areas,” he said. “If it is about outreach and engagement, it might be sitting within corporate affairs or marketing, if you have a strong community purpose behind what you’re doing. If you’re focused on your supply chain and modern slavery, sitting under the chief procurement officer might be the better place to sit.”

Unlike other parts of the market, hiring for sustainability functions has proven robust through the COVID-19 pandemic, Evans said.

“Sustainability is still a big focus,” he said. “Organisations do see this as something that is important. The introduction of the Modern Slavery Act has been really good for keeping companies focused, the [Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures] TCFD has mean that investors are paying attention to this, employees want to work for an organisation that genuinely want to do the right thing, so for the sector as a whole, I think it’s certainly hasn’t been impacted as harshly as it has been, historically.

“That’s a real testament to the practitioners in the sector – they do understand the relationship that sustainability has with the strategy of the organisation, become more embedded whereas historically it was seen as an add-on.”

This article was originally featured on FS Sustainability.