Ethny Childs
February 2024

Skills to secure a sustainable future

two people conducting a solar panel assessment

This article is taken from 'Transforming the planet: Our vision for the future of environmental science', which sets out a vision for the role of environmental science in facilitating the transition to a sustainable society.

That vision relies on environmental scientists who are knowledgeable, skilled, diverse, and trusted. As a key lever to support the creation of that future, green skills were highlighted as particularly important throughout the IES’s Future of ES23 horizon scanning and foresight project.

Read our full vision in Transforming the planet.

In a changing world, the skills in the workforce need to adapt rapidly to the needs of society and the demands from employers. In response to increased legislation around environmental improvement, net zero and sustainability requirements, the demand for environmental expertise is significantly growing and leading to expanded career pathways and employment opportunities. This is producing novel skills needs in the sector and reframing what it means to be an environmental scientist.

Increased acknowledgement of the need for an integrated approach to environmental, social and economic issues is also causing an expansion in what is considered part of the environmental sector and creating a more broadly defined need for “green skills”, knowledge, and competencies at all levels. 

Effective implementation of solutions-led science will hinge upon an environmental science workforce equipped with the necessary technical, systems thinking and enabling skills, such as communication and strategic thinking.

What next: The importance of competency

In a world where engagement across the policy, public and scientific worlds are needed more than ever, professional registrations can be an effective tool to build trust and counter bad practices. 

Given the complex skills mix needed in the environmental workforce to support solutions-led science founded on principles of sustainability, competency frameworks, such as the UNESCO Competency Framework and Chartered Environmentalist, are needed to support targeted professional development. 

The environmental workforce is well-equipped to support the transition to a sustainable society given its focus on real-world problems and interdisciplinary science. These skills should be underpinned by structures to support targeted professional development and recognition to support environmental scientists in reaching their full potential as architects of the future.