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World of Clouds

Corporate Sustainability Officers

A new management position is emerging among companies to help handle the complexities of becoming a 'green' company called a Corporate or Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO).

With climate change and other environmental crisis upon us, this role is becoming an important position in companies to address and manage these sustainability issues.

The Need for CSOs

Corporate CEOs now recognize that a Chief Sustainability Officer provides a competitive advantage for a company's growth and long-term success. In 2007, a little over 5% of the corporate 500 had a designated corporate social responsibility officer; in 2008 this has grown to 10%. These companies are already seeing the high value this position brings to the company. In the 1950s, only 5% of the corporate 500 had designated HR personnel. As American values shift, so do the roles in a company. As companies are becoming more committed to environmental and social stewardship, they see the vital need to have someone take accountability and responsibility and lead the sustainability initiatives.

Position Titles

This position title varies from Chief, Director, or Vice President highlighting the executive and management role this position is now playing. Here is a brief list of some possible titles for this position:

  • Chief Sustainability Officer
  • Chief Responsibility Officer
  • Responsible Livelihood Officer
  • Eco-Responsibility Officer
  • Corporate Social Responsibility Officer
  • Community and Environmental Responsibility Officer
  • Sustainable Development Officer
  • Corporate Social and Environmental Officer
For more resources about Sustainability Officers and Executives, visit our Blog.

The Job

Each company will have a different approach to sustainability because they will need to match it with the core values and strategic direction of the company. Ultimately the CSO will want to drive business growth and increase profitability, as do all the other executives, but their focus will be to integrate business objectives with corporate social and environmental responsibility. CSOs can address in their job the following sustainability issues;

  • Managing environmental risk
  • Resource conservation and management
  • Waste reduction
  • Product stewardship and life cycle footprints
  • New 'green' product lines or services
  • Community Involvement and volunteerism
  • 'Green' Communications, reporting and marketing strategy
  • Employee Transportation Plans and Incentives

The Person

The role of Chief Sustainability Officer is challenging and complex. A person in this position needs to be able to see both the vision and long-term strategy of a company as well as be creative and innovative. This position is not only about having the education and technical knowledge in sustainability but being able to lead and affect change. This role requires someone who isn't afraid to take risks and also has the ability to facilitate, create consensus and drive the culture change for the organization. This function requires a person to be able to multi-task and be an efficient project manager. This person is the sustainability champion who must integrate environmental thinking into every department, group and individual within a company.

We have only a few years before the effects of global warming are irreversible. The US corporate world has been a huge part of the problem and now has an opportunity to be part of the solution. All companies, whether large or small, have the responsibility to be conscious of how their business impacts our environment, the community and our world. CSOs can play an influential and vital role in moving companies in the right direction quickly. If a company can't afford a full-time CSO, they should consider hiring a sustainability consultant to act in the interim.

Bibliography and Additional Readings

Who's in Charge of Green, Advertising Age, June 9, 2008

Companies Giving Green an Office, New York Times, July 3, 2007

The Emergence of the Chief Sustainability Officer, Acre, 2011

New Breed of Human Resource Leader, HR Magazine, June 2008

Chief Sustainability Officers the New Corporate Stewards of the Environment, Verde Exchange, experts from conference panel, Jan 2008

The Old Future is Gone, Forbes, January 4, 2008

Salary Survey for Sustainability Executive, GreenBiz, 2011

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