Singapore sustainability sector salary survey: who’s paid most?

Bank chief sustainability officers are paid the most, NGO executives the least. Sustainability salaries in Singapore are growing but the level of salary increment is levelling off as the talent pool starts to mature, according to recruiter Michael Page.

ESG professionals in Singapore
"Sustainability salaries will continue to grow in Singapore but the level of salary increment will not be as substantial, because the talent pool is maturing," said Gabriel Nam, partner, ESG, strategy and transformation, Michael Page International. Image: Robin Hicks/Eco-Business

From a junior executive working for a social enterprise on S$40,000 (US$29,700) a year to the chief sustainability officer (CSO) of a bank paid 10 times more, salaries for sustainability professionals in Singapore are generally rising but at a slowing rate, according to research by Michael Page (MP), a recruitment firm.

“Sustainability salaries will continue to grow but the level of salary increment will not be as substantial, because the talent pool is maturing in Singapore,” said Gabriel Nam, partner, ESG, strategy and transformation, MP, which surveyed sustainability professionals in eight industries in the city-state.

Over the past year and a half, demand for ESG skills has grown but so has supply, with more people willing to fill a growing number of corporate sustainability positions, he told Eco-Business.

That trend is set to continue as companies pool more resources into sustainability manpower to bolster their environmental and social credentials in response to growing regulator and consumer pressure, Nam said.

Climate reporting is now mandatory for listed companies in Singapore while demand for environment, social and governance (ESG) skills has increased by 257 per cent in three years as companies clamour to get up to speed.

Pay for sustainability roles is generally higher than in other equivalent functions due to a “green premium” on scarce talent, Nam noted.

Which sustainability roles pay most?

The salaries of Singapore-based chief sustainability officers – the most senior corporate sustainability role – range from S$200,000 to S$300,000 across all sectors, the survey found.

Salary survey snap-shots

The most well-paid sustainability executive: Head of sustainable finance at a bank on S$350,000+

The lowest paid chief sustainability officers are in the manufacturing sector, on S$220,000 to $220,000

The lowest paid junior role is in consumer goods and retail, with sustainability executives on S$50,000 to S$70,000

A manager of nature-based solutions at an energy company is paid: S$120,000 to S$160,000

The director of carbon market trading at a professional services firm is paid: S$180,000 to S$230,000

Source: Michael Page ESG & Sustainability Salary Guide 2023

On average, salaries for more junior roles in corporate sustainability range from S$50,000 to S$80,000, with the lowest paid juniors in consumer goods and retail, and the highest paid in real estate, banking and manufacturing.

Middle management sustainability roles range from S$100,000 to S$160,000.

Sustainability practitioners are the most well-remunerated in banking and finance, a sector that also has the broadest range of sustainability roles.

At the lower end, the average annual salary of a sustainability analyst in a bank in Singapore is S$65,000 to S$90,000 a year. In more senior roles, a head of climate risk is paid S$250,000 to S$300,000 and a CSO gets S$300,000 to S$400,000. The highest paid are heads of sustainable investment, who take home S$350,000 and above.

As banks grow their sustainability teams, they’re increasingly looking at candidates outside of the finance sector for the expertise they need, the report noted.

By contrast, salaries are much lower in Singapore’s civic society space, where a junior executive can expect to earn S$40,000 to S$50,000 and a team leader receive S$80,000 to S$160,000. However, salaries for senior roles at international non-profits are comparable to private sector roles, with an NGO managing director taking home between S$250,000 and S$300,000.

The relatively lower pay and rigid payscale in civic society organisations is making it difficult for non-profits to attract and retain talent, which are frequently lured by commercial firms. However, non-profits are still able to attract job seekers looking for a sense of purpose, the report noted.

The energy and utilities sector has among the most sought-after sustainability talent from other industries, because it is a particularly mature sector with a talent pool in niche in-demand arenas such as carbon markets, carbon accounting and renewables development.

Singapore is Southeast Asia’s most advanced employment market for ESG skills and talent, and rivals Hong Kong and Tokyo as the pre-eminent regional hub for ESG knowhow, Nam said.

An ESG executive in Singapore is likely to draw a comparable salary to their peers in Hong Kong, although Singapore’s available talent pool and range of job opportunities is bigger, he noted.

The political situation in Hong Kong as well as the territory’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has helped Singapore get an edge over its regional rival in the fight for ESG talent. Singapore is already at an advantage because of the high proportion of multinational corporations based there and a stronger government sustainability mandate, Nam said.

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