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Commercial buildings stand on Hong Kong Island on October 28, 2022. Photo: Yik Yeung-man

Climate change: Hong Kong to pay 30 per cent more for ESG jobs as companies fight for talent to meet sustainability targets

  • ‘There is a massive skills gap in this space globally, especially in Hong Kong,’ one recruiter says
  • Skills and knowledge of ESG reporting and carbon emissions are in high demand as all Hong Kong-listed companies face reporting requirements
Environmental, social and governance (ESG) jobs in Hong Kong could command salary premiums of more than 30 per cent as companies strive to meet their sustainability targets and tackle climate change, according to headhunters.

With increasing demand for ESG and sustainability expertise in Hong Kong, local talents can expect salary increments of over 30 per cent when switching jobs, while those relocating to the city from overseas can expect even higher salary increases and potential expat benefits, according to recruitment agency Hays.

“There is a massive skills gap in this space globally, especially in Hong Kong,” said Sue Wei, managing director of Hays Hong Kong. “The push for ESG and sustainability talent will continue in the new year.”

All of the nearly 2,500 Hong Kong-listed companies are required to publish annual sustainability reports on their ESG performance alongside mandatory periodic financial reports.
Pedestrians cross a road in the Central district of Hong Kong, in 2017. Photo: Bloomberg
There has been “aggressive hiring” of ESG and sustainability talent from the big four accounting firms as well as management consulting firms who have been looking to fill the gap from the lack of in-house talent at companies in Hong Kong, according to Paddy Balfour, executive director of Asia for sustainability recruitment firm Acre.

“Particularly around the compliance and consulting side of ESG, hiring has been particularly strong” in Hong Kong, said Balfour, adding that there could be an uptake in hiring over the next 18 to 24 months after the Lunar New Year now that travel restrictions have been removed.

Over the past two years, there has been around a 25 per cent increase in the amount of hiring for ESG roles in Hong Kong, according to John Mullally, managing director of Robert Walters in Hong Kong.


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People already in an ESG role who switch to another firm could command a 20 to 25 per cent salary increment, Mullally added.

“The expectation now, globally, is that ESG has to be a big part of what you do, and you have to have [professionals] within your firm, dedicated to measuring it, making sure there’s compliance and governance around it, and making sure that there’s reporting around it,” said Mullally.

“Many companies in Hong Kong are to a large extent still playing catch up with the rest of the world. When most companies these days do compete on a global or regional scale, there is going to be more hiring in that space.”


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Relevant skills and knowledge of ESG reporting, climate change and carbon emissions are of high interest to companies when making ESG-related hires, said Martin Xiang, principal in Heidrick & Struggles Hong Kong.

“The financial sector in particular demands more green finance professionals with the knowledge and skills to meet industry needs in Hong Kong. We have also observed that banks and investment funds in Hong Kong who are focused on sustainability investing are looking towards bringing in the right ESG talent,” said Xiang.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po announced plans for a three-year pilot scheme to build green and sustainable finance capacity in his budget plan in February.

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The government earmarked HK$200 million (US$25.5 million) for the trial, which would provide subsidies for training to obtain the relevant professional qualifications in sustainable finance, as part of a collaborative effort to build capacity for the industry.

While the scheme is a step in the right direction, there is still an urgent requirement for the government to better promote Hong Kong as a global city of choice again to attract overseas talent, according to Hays’ Wei.

“If Hong Kong wishes to accelerate its journey to net zero, the public and private sectors need to work together, to woo international sustainability talent in order to meet its ambitious climate goals,” she said.