Why The C-Suite Needs a Chief Sustainability Officer

Why The C-Suite Needs a Chief Sustainability Officer

Does your corporation intend to be in business in another 100 years? Adding a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) to your C-Suite may make the difference. But do enough CEOs understand the sustainability role and why it matters? It’s not clear.

A new report from The Weinreb Group, CSO Backstory II: The Evolution of the Chief Sustainability Officer, should serve as a wake-up call on that front. Though there has been progress, with 36 CSOs today, up from 29 in 2011, the importance of the role – which, to be clear, can either be in the C-Suite or report to it, depending on the corporation – begs for a faster pace of corporate adoption. As the author of the report, Ellen Weinreb, puts it: “Sustainability executives understand how to translate external factors into internal business opportunities, and everyone in the C-Suite should be on to this.”

The report discusses the changes the role has undergone in just those three years, including shifts in collective benefit, innovation, stakeholder signaling, access and what is termed, “team sport.” (See the report’s executive summary for more detail). Within those areas, I see a few universal themes emerge in what and how CSOs now serve in their critical capacity.

Integrating External Factors

The fast pace of technology, growing complexity of corporate missions and the increasingly global connections and communication needs all point to a much different business landscape. Corporations need at least one leader with a wide as well as deep professional background, who is practiced (and comfortable) looking outside and inside the company for insights and information that will guide crucial long-term decisions. The CSO is charged with just this.

With so much changing so quickly, CSOs have to consider the role of the company within overall society and to work “at the intersection of business value and employee, customer, and community value,” as the Weinreb Report points out. To do this, the people serving in these roles need to have developed a holistic view to give the company fresh perspective on long-term opportunities for collaboration and innovation. And, perhaps in ways no other one executive could. For instance, because of their broader awareness, they might see innovation opportunities in natural resource constraints and collaboration potential where others see competitors. Or, they might identify new ways to engage with communities that significantly improve talent recruitment efforts.

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Distributed with permission of the author