Never in its 53-year-history has Earth Day and sustainability initiatives been more in the spotlight, writes Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek, Chief Sustainability Officer, Skillsoft.

The appetite for businesses to make the world a better place – across multiple facets – is growing, and with it many organisations’ commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental, social, and governance (ESG). Our recent CSR at Work Report found that since the pandemic, 72% of working professionals say CSR has become more important to their organisation and 68% say their leadership team has increased its CSR investment.

This year’s Earth Day theme – “Invest In Our Planet” – highlights the impact we can all make as individuals. Every person can do something – dedicating time, talent, and treasure – to address climate change and its effects. But, organisations also have a role to play.

International efforts to halt climate change

More than 198 countries have signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, agreeing to work together to take immediate action to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations by focusing on nature, food, water, industry decarbonisation, and climate adaptation. At the same time, businesses of all sizes and in all sectors have aligned with the UN Global Compact’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a set of objectives meant to serve as a blueprint for policymakers to achieve peace and prosperity for people and the planet.

Together, countries and companies are doing this work – and more – to drive measurable sustainability initiatives that are helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next few years. But by all accounts, the world is not on track to meet our established goals. To continue driving transformation, we need to lean into, and on, education.

In our second annual Lean Into Learning: Earth Day Report, we explored sustainability learning consumption trends among the millions of learners using Skillsoft, including how they are acquiring sustainability and green skills, which of these skills are most in-demand, and the industries that are leading the charge in sustainability learning. The data shows a significant surge in learning activity as corporate sustainability and green-skilled workers rise in demand.

Entering a new sustainability skilling frontier

With greater focus on sustainability, quality learning opportunities are increasingly being made available, and utilised, to all who want to champion a sustainable vision at their organisation. In fact, the top way businesses are addressing issues related to CSR is by offering training to employees. The more everyone supports and buys-in to this vision, the greater the impact that can be made.

As organisations and employees emphasise learning as a critical means of tackling the climate change challenge and transitioning to a greener economy, we observed a 60% year-over-year (YoY) increase in the number of new learners acquiring green skills and competencies via Skillsoft. Additionally, learners collectively spent 115% more hours on sustainability skilling over the past year and Skillsoft issued 87% more badges in recognition of their achievements.

Analysing how sustainability and green skilling is playing out across industries is illuminating. The chart below shows organisations in the business services, government, education and training services, manufacturing, and energy and utilities industries engaging in, and completing, the highest volume of sustainability content and courses. This is quite a significant shakeup from the previous year.

Top Industries (Mar. 2021 – Feb. 2022):

  1. Government

  2. Energy & Utilities

  3. Finance, Banking, Insurance

  4. Marketing, Sales, Advertising, PR

  5. Manufacturing

Top Industries (Mar. 2022 – Feb. 2023):

  1. Business Services

  2. Government

  3. Education and Training Services

  4. Manufacturing

  5. Energy and Utilities

Overall, we observed a 16% increase in net new organisations accessing sustainability training content. While still a positive increase, compared to the 63% increase the year prior, it’s somewhat discouraging to see this number wane.

Learning trends shaping a greener workforce

When we dissect the top five trending courses over the past year, it appears that learners are focused on better understanding what it means to be a responsible business, as well as the risks that come with not embracing sustainability. Ranked by the most overall completions over the past year and showing YoY consumption increases:

  1. The Effects of Environmental Change on Business (290%)

  2. Building a Strategic Commitment to Sustainability (47%)

  3. Weighing Risks and Opportunities of Implementing Sustainability Initiatives (95%)

  4. How to Create a Positive Future for the Climate, Planet, Organization, and Your Life (38%)

  5. The Responsible Business: Reimagining Sustainability and Success (34%)

Meanwhile, we see a similar pattern looking at the top digital badges learners earned via Skillsoft and publicly celebrated on social media over the past year. Two additional surging skills round out the top five list as learners seek information about local regulations and global agreements that affect how businesses operate and tangible ways to implement sustainable business practices into corporate strategies.

  1. The Effects of Environmental Change on Business (161%)

  2. Building a Strategic Commitment to Sustainability (24%)

  3. Weighing Risks and Opportunities of Implementing Sustainability Initiatives (109%)

  4. Sustainability in Practice (315%)

  5. Sustainability Foundations (228%)

Turning our sights to learners’ top keyword searches shows strong and growing interest in sustainability and climate topics. We observed a 46% YoY increase across all sustainability-related searches (ex: “sustainability,” “climate change,” “recycling,” “environmental awareness”) on Skillsoft. Unsurprisingly, “sustainability” was Skillsoft learners’ top search for the third consecutive year, but what is surprising is the sheer increase in search volume: 53% YoY and 337% since 2021. We see similar spikes across the other four keywords rounding out the top five list:

  1. Sustainability (53% YoY | 337% since 2021)

  2. OSHA (65% YoY | 135% since 2021)

  3. Climate (39% YoY | 382% since 2021)

  4. Climate Change (15% YoY | 269% since 2021)

  5. Solar (81% YoY | 102% since 2021)

Building a more sustainable future

We’re all on a sustainability journey together. Learning has proven itself time and again to be an invaluable tool for driving transformation, and these skilling trends are indicative of a new environmental social compact that has emerged between employers and employees.

So how do we move further and faster? Key ways to future-proof CSR and ESG efforts include:

  • Offer training to employees where each individual is taught how they can make the company – and the world – a better place to be. Skillsoft’s Environmental, Health, and Safety Compliance training can help. Learn more here.

  • Invest in long-term plans that incorporate one, three, and five-year roadmaps, making it easy for new team members to come into the organisation and pick up where predecessors leave off.

  • Commit time and people, even more so than money, to give everyone a sense of purpose, as well as a connection to the mission and each other. Align your purpose to that of your employees and vice versa.

  • Break down silos by making it the responsibility of your entire workforce to promote, engage in, and reinforce your CSR and ESG priorities. From there, work with the team to better understand what skills they utilise in their current roles and how these may translate into ongoing initiatives (and where gaps may exist).

Developing meaningful ESG goals and programs is a journey Skillsoft has already started, and one we are intent on continuing. We are committed to developing specified sustainability goals, and to creating relevant, up-to-date content that emphasises ESG, DEI, and more to guide our customers’ sustainability transformation initiatives. Read more about Skillsoft’s ESG mission here.

Methodology:

The Lean Into Learning: Earth Day 2023 Report analyses data from thousands of Skillsoft customers and millions of Skillsoft learners around the globe. We looked at learning consumption of sustainability-related courses available on the Skillsoft learning platform from March 2022 – February 2023. For data points referring back to 2021, we calculated the percentage growth from March 2020 – February 2021 to February 2023.