What is a Chief Sustainability Officer and Why Should Companies Have One?
Corporations are beginning to confront their carbon footprint. Some organizations are hiring Chief Sustainability Officers to help find actionable solutions. A Chief Sustainability Officer, or CSO, is responsible for integrating and managing how environmental issues are factored into business decisions.
CSO’s go beyond setting up recycling bins in the office. In most cases, the work directly with the CEO and executive team to implement solutions that increase profitability while improving the overall sustainability of the organization. The Chief Sustainability Office is also responsible for interacting with employees across all departments, as well as engagement with key investors and consumers.
Chief Sustainability Officers are essential, regardless of the industry. The most common sectors that employ CSO’s are technical consulting services, government, manufacturing and healthcare.
The role of a Chief Sustainability Officer has evolved since it first came on the scene a few years ago. In the past, CSO’s have been accused of corporate greenwashing. CSO’s were often appointed after a major controversy, such as an oil spill. However, this is no longer the case.
Let’s take a look at the responsibilities of a Chief Sustainability Officer, and why it may be a good idea to add one to your organization.
Long term strategy
In the past, CSO’s were primarily responsible for finding short-term solutions within the company. Most of these issues were compliance-related, and had little to do with aligning sustainability goals with the company’s overall profitability. Today, things look very different.
Chief Sustainability Officers are responsible for work with the executive team to identify long-term solutions across departments. Issues such as resource management, operations and supply chain logistics are all areas where CSO’s can get involved. In many ways, company’s are redefining what success looks like. Success today is about “doing well and doing good” which means that a company’s overall success depends on how it handles its resources.
There has been a snowball effect recently of company’s promising Science-Based Targets. These targets detail how organization’s are changing their energy consumption, and setting goals for going carbon neutral. With more of these trends on the rise, the Chieft Sustainability Officer will have the responsibility for making sure that the organization stays on track to reach it’s goals, whether that be five or ten years down the road.
Just hiring a Chief Sustainability Officer for the name recognition is not enough to boost a company’s reputation. Consumers and investors alike react to tangible and measurable change.
Hiring a Chief Sustainability Officer who can increase profitability for the company internally while also responding to consumer trends is the way to go. Reputation must be backed up by proof, and implementing new sustainable procedures organized by a CSO is a great place to start.
The climate crisis has played a key role in how corporate sustainability is evolving, creating an urgent need for CSO’s to implement effective solutions.
How companies define their stakeholders has also changed, with consumers and employees holding more influence. This is in part due to the consumer demand for transparency when it comes to a company’s role in environmental issues. A recent study shows that when a company outlines a specific mission and measurable goals in hiring a CSO, beyond just handling a negative incident in the past, investors take notice.
The responsibility of the CSO is to affect the company culture in a way that integrates sustainable practices into the common goals of the company. Building a positive work environment is essential to any business. When it comes to sustainability, creating a rewarding and uplifting work space that revolves around environmentally friendly ideals not only improves performance, but also an employee’s perception of the organization.
The goal of a Chief Sustainability Officer is to incorporate values within a company that are data-driven. Measurable changes are more likely to be implemented promptly.
One challenge of cultivating a culture of sustainability within an organization is providing the right encouragement. Chief Sustainability Officer’s are responsible for organizing monetary incentives and in some circumstances, proper training for employeees.
There are three identified tiers of responsibility for a Chief Sustainability Officer: compliance, efficiency and innovation. Research demonstrates that most officers only address compliance in their career, with a handful of organizations making a commitment to increase efficiency. In the next few years, one of the most integral responsibilities of a CSO will be innovation.
Sustainability is no longer just about conserving resources for future generations and correcting wasteful systems. True corporate sustainability is about doing more good, not just less bad. A CSO is directly responsible for communicating potential areas of improvement with the executive team and carrying out strategies on time.
Sustainability-linked loan developments quadrupled between 2018 and 2019, signaling a remarkable shift in how financial incentives are affecting sustainable change.
Adding a Chief Sustainability Officer Role to Your Company
As consumers demand transparency and environmental responsibility from businesses, CSO’s have become a valuable asset. Creating a strategy to combat a company’s carbon footprint is no small feat. A Chief Sustainability Officer takes on the responsibility of helping a company evolve.
CSO’s play a vital role in companies and are involved not only with the executive team, but also employees, investors and consumers. They create and implement long-term strategic plans, affect company culture and think outside the box to find creative solutions to complex issues. Rather than just being a social responsibility, corporate sustainability is now being treated as an economic necessity. By adding a CSO to your organization, you are investing in not only the longevity of your company from a financial point of view but an environmental one as well.
About the author
Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.