Would the Chief Sustainability Officer please stand up?

Would the Chief Sustainability Officer please stand up?

As Sustainability becomes embedded in core business strategy, a new job function is evolving - the Chief Sustainability Officer. But who will be the Chief Sustainability Officer and where will they sit within an organisation?


Acre looks at the evolving role of the Chief Sustainability Officer wiith support from research conducted by Verdantix.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - 2:00pm

CONTENT: Press Release

(3BLMedia/theCSRfeed) July 20, 2010 - Earlier this month sustainability recruitment and executive search consultancy Acre and independent analyst firm Verdantix brought together top leaders and heads of sustainability to discuss the evolving role of the Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) in business.
The seminar sparked debate amongst the professionals gathered as the presenters highlighted the growing number of senior, board level roles that have been created to manage and embed sustainability into core businesses strategy.

Research by Verdantix shows that business response to climate change is moving from a reaction to the issues, to a proactive adoption of opportunities.  The ‘nice-to-dos’ of corporate social responsibility (CSR) are being replaced with the ‘need-to-dos’ of sustainability and the prospect of making money through new products and services, saving money through enhanced efficiency and mitigating and managing risk by creating new ways of looking at challenges and problem solving.

David Metcalfe, CEO of Verdantix says; “sustainable business strategies set out ambitious objectives which are already transforming the basis of competitive advantage.  With governance being one of the key challenges faced by organisations, the need for executive leadership becomes essential to delivering these business strategies. Verdantix have identified this individual as having the responsibility of; building a sustainable business strategy, implementing a company-wide change programme and exploring revenue generation opportunities.  This role may be given the title of Chief Sustainability Officer, illustrating the seniority this position now has within a business.”

These new challenges and opportunities require a different level of professional with a different skill set to a “traditional” Director of CR or Sustainability, as Rufus Bullough, Associate at Acre identifies;

“The individuals that are moving into these roles are often from a general management background and are not necessarily a subject matter expert in corporate responsibility. They will have had profit & loss (P&L) responsibility, possibly managed a change management programme and have experience of product or service innovation. This is a ‘success’ appointment - this person needs to set the strategy, know how to translate it into action and create competitive advantage out of challenges such as a lack of resources and increasing energy costs”.

Bullough goes onto to say “The evolution of this role should not be seen as a threat but as an opportunity by those professionals already working in CR and sustainability.  There is the opportunity for those who want it, to develop their skills and take on the challenge of this job.  Alternatively there will be the role created under the CSO for sustainability ambassadors or subject matter experts.  Either way individuals should see this change as a positive one which will help legitimise and clarify their role in business. The future is about making business sustainable, but the opportunity is about creating business from sustainability”.

As businesses recognise the chance to create new revenue streams through sustainability related innovation, the positioning of corporate responsibility is changing.  Although opportunities to work in these areas will remain, the biggest prospects in the next phase of the sustainability journey will be for those at the ‘operational’ end of business to lead and develop sustainable business strategies.

As a Chief Sustainability Officer at a Food and Beverage Firm stated “CSR had it’s time but it failed because it lacked a business perspective.  Now is the time for sustainability which is strategic and financially material.”