In 2015, Hawaii broke new ground as the first US state to pass a piece of legislation that would put it on track to achieve 100 per cent clean energy by 2045. It took a while for other states to catch on but, three years later, California followed suit, and since then a total of a dozen states – and Puerto Rico, a US territory – have passed laws that require a shift to carbon-free electricity or net-zero emissions. Others, such as Colorado and Maryland, are making progress through more targeted actions.

Florida is the latest to throw its hat in the ring, responding to a petition by young residents for the state to stop violating their ‘fundamental rights to a stable climate system’, even if this response has taken four years to come to fruition.

Even though Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner, Nikki Fried, claims climate change is “one of the most urgent issues of our time,” the state has a lot of work to do. Its rule is only at the proposal stage and, while its graduated targets may sound achievable on paper – 40 per cent renewable energy for utilities by 2030, 63 per cent by 2035, 82 per cent by 2040, and 100 per cent by 2050 – only about 5 per cent of Florida’s electricity in 2020 was produced by sources such as solar, compared with 75 per cent by natural gas, which is mainly methane.

While the states slowly come around to the idea of a cleaner, greener future, President Joe Biden has set a precedent by signing an executive order (in December) to ensure the Federal Government catches up with the net-zero line of thinking. The order aims to ‘reduce emissions across federal operations, invest in American clean energy industries and manufacturing, and create clean, healthy, and resilient communities.’ It directs the Government to reach a 65 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and achieve net-zero by 2050, goes over the heads of Congress as it debates the administration’s climate budget.

The slow progress of the individual states in coming to the net-zero table and the disjointed nature of this approach are hampering the Biden administration’s green ambitions.

So how can this be achieved?

As much as a shift to all-electric cars and trucks across the government’s fleet and all of its 300,000 federal buildings reducing greenhouse gas emissions will help, this won’t be enough to hit nationwide targets. Rather, unprecedented levels of investment in workforce development are needed. 

Fortunately, the White House’s Fact Sheet that supported Biden’s executive order highlighted the need to assess ‘its climate and sustainability management staffing and training gaps to inform a longer-term plan that will prioritize areas of concern and greatest needs.’ As part of this program, the Department of Labor is launching a new training course, bringing its senior leadership team up to speed on climate change management considerations and environmental justice principals, while also building climate change literacy into new employee orientation material.

This commitment to promote a climate- and sustainability-focused workforce is key to the success of net-zero goals. And, in simple terms, we can’t get this wrong. If mistakes are made, we don’t have time to rectify them further down the line. We need experts in the field, who understand the sector and its business requirements to be feeding the right candidates into the system. 

Hyperion Executive Search is the executive search firm that has this expertise. Get in touch today to learn how we are placing the best talent into some of the most innovative and high-growth cleantech companies in the world.