In 2009, "sustainability" was all the buzz. Companies such as Woodside Petroleum, one of the world’s leading producers of petroleum and liquefied natural gas, appointed sustainability directors to manage the broader sustainability issues, such as the role of Woodside in the community and its environmental footprint.
But in 2010, the looming economic imperative is carbon, emissions trading schemes and the potential carbon has to impose huge costs on business.
Don Voelte, head of Woodside, understands the necessity to have the right talent in place to manage these risks.
"Issues such as greenhouse gases, the environment and sustainability are like a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle," Mr Voelte told us. "We need somebody able to manage that entire, integral package - somebody who can put all the pieces together."
""Until there's a global solution, until our other competitors have the same costs that we have to bear, there really needs to be a no net increase in cost,"" Don says.
In a study by the Investor Responsibility Research Center (IRRC), Carbon costs would amount to about 1 percent of earnings for 203 companies, while 71 companies could see their earnings fall by 10 percent or more.
The financial risk to companies in the S&P 500 is likely to vary greatly under a cap-and trade program that requires the purchase of carbon emission credits.
According to the United Nations, "Carbon as an asset is still somewhere in between infancy and childhood."
Fortunately for businesses, we’re finding a few adults out there experienced in understanding and grappling with the issues involved. And, with billions of dollars at stake over the short- to medium-term, a new kind of leader is required – the ""carbon executive,"" an executive with strong strategic and financial skills. They need to have the ability to navigate the complexities of whatever schemes government policy will impose on their operations.
We’re finding executives with these skills in a wide variety of sectors, including banks and financial institutions, consultancies, utilities and oil and gas companies.
And they’ll be well placed to benefit from a global market for carbon credits and offsets that is predicted to be at least US$1 trillion – and maybe double that – by 2020.