The rapid evolution of the Chief Sustainability Officer’s role

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– Chief Sustainability Officers are in high demand.
– Their role is evolving to be more of a C-Suite officer, a senior executive with a business background – and some ESG experience – who is focused on value creation. That’s a departure from the mid-level role that CSOs have had, repurposed with no prior ESG experience.

This article entitled “ESG 2.0 – The Next Generation of Leadership” by Russell Reynolds’ Kurt Harrison talks about the high demand for Chief Sustainability Officers – and how the role (and skill sets necessary) for the position are evolving.

And here is a 75-minute video from Deloitte and the Institute of International Finance. I’ll admit I didn’t have the stamina to watch the entire thing – but it covers:

  1. The mandate of the CSO’s role
  2. The skill set of the CSO
  3. Reporting lines and relationship with the CEO
  4. The CSO’s contribution to governance
  5. Future pathways for the role

And writes in this blog: this INSEAD Knowledge blog notes how CSOs are fast becoming a fixture and provides insight about the impact of the CSO. The blog discusses research of 400 large US companies that found CSOs have an impact by improving a company’s sustainability record. What was interesting to me was a finding about the degree of a CSO’s impact on company engagement in “socially responsible” activities versus reducing “irresponsible” activities. Here’s an excerpt:

As expected, companies with a CSO engage in more socially responsible activities (e.g. investments to reduce carbon emissions) and fewer socially irresponsible activities (e.g. polluting the environment). Significantly, we found that CSO presence has a greater effect on companies ‘doing less bad’ than ‘doing more good.’  This effect is particularly pronounced in companies in so-called “sin” or culpable industries like tobacco, and, notably, in companies with a board committee for sustainability.