McKinsey’s new Sustainability Academy helps clients upskill workers for the net-zero transition

Capability-building will play a critical role in solving the net zero equation. Scaling supply chains and infrastructure, developing analytics tools to assess climate risk, reskilling workers in highly carbon-dependent markets, and more will have a massive impact on our ability to stabilize global temperatures in line with the 1.5C-degree pathway.

To help our clients reach their sustainability and broader ESG goals, we have launched Sustainability Academy, a capability-building program that helps organizations better equip their talent for the net zero transition.

“Making our economic system more sustainable and more inclusive is an imperative that is felt by all types of stakeholders, from governments and regulators, to clients, suppliers, and end consumers,” says partner Pietro Sorrentino, who helps lead Sustainability Academy. “Private organizations have a central role to play to decarbonize our economy, but to do so they must build skills and capabilities that today they do not have. McKinsey’s Sustainability Academy was created exactly to do that: help companies accelerate change by supporting them in building new knowledge for their employees.”

The program was designed by consultants from McKinsey Sustainability and learning experts from McKinsey Academy—our capability building center of excellence—and follows a simple approach: acquire, apply, and sustain.

First, Sustainability Academy offers formal learning experiences to help talent acquire new knowledge and skills through practice and feedback. Second, teams apply these mindsets and capabilities in a real-world context, where impact materializes. Finally, we help organizations sustain new practices and habits to unlock lasting behavioral change.

Sustainability Academy has launched with two foundational programs. Our Executive Masterclass kickstarts transformations by aligning senior executives with the mindsets and skills required to deliver their sustainability agendas. Sustainability Transformation Essentials, meanwhile, helps clients develop enterprise-wide awareness of core sustainability concepts, including the climate transition, solving the net-zero equation, and capturing new business opportunities.

The program is already driving impact with clients. Recently, we partnered with a Fortune 500 company to accelerate their net-zero journey, helping them become an industry ESG leader.

In this case, the client had articulated clear sustainability targets—including reaching net zero for Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. But leaders needed to equip their teams with the practical skill sets needed to engage both internally and externally with stakeholders and suppliers.

This is a common challenge: industry benchmarks show that in some sectors, nearly 100 percent of companies have defined and communicated sustainability strategies, but only 40 percent believe they have sufficient internal knowledge and capabilities to achieve their targets. Given that about 90 percent of our client’s emissions fell into Scope 3 (within the supply chain and not directly owned by the organization), equipping their talent with capabilities to engage their suppliers was particularly important.


Sustainability Academy

The company asked McKinsey’s Sustainability Academy to help their talent build the knowledge, skills, and capabilities they needed to engage with their suppliers to reduce emissions across the value chain. Together, we co-developed a multimodal journey—integrating fieldwork, digital learning, and live workshops—to help the client’s category managers prepare for conversations with suppliers.

This journey looked at key emissions categories, such as distribution and logistics, identifying the sustainability opportunities to discuss with suppliers and internal stakeholders. It also provided modules on how to best lead the supplier discussions and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

The same client also sought to increase spend with diverse companies by more than $1 billion across their tier 1 and tier 2 suppliers. We partnered with the organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion team to create robust diversity programs and track against diversity targets. These efforts culminated in a virtual supplier summit with more than 200 suppliers and more than 1,000 internal and external attendees.

Private organizations have a central role to play to decarbonize our economy, but to do so they must build skills and capabilities that today they do not have. McKinsey’s Sustainability Academy was created exactly to do that...

Pietro Sorrentino, McKinsey partner

These efforts delivered significant impact on both the sustainability and inclusion fronts. Supplier commitments to science-based targets increased by more than 50 percent from the baseline, and gains were made on supplier diversity, equity, and inclusion, with additional commitments on tier 2 reporting and identification of new business opportunities with tier 1 diverse suppliers.

“Completing the online training modules, supported by the virtual forum sessions and open office hours, helped our client’s people build a fact-base for working with their suppliers, which enabled them to have productive conversations at the supplier summit,” says partner Maria Fernandez. “Today, this work is the foundation upon which their multi-year ESG transformation resides.”

If your organization is interested in working with Sustainability Academy, please email us.

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