What are the reasons for the growing importance of chief sustainability officers in the corporate sector and the future of this post?
Ellen Weinreb, founder of the Weinreb Group Sustainability Recruiting has 25 years of experience working in ESG and sustainability. She recently spoke to GreenBiz Group about the increasing significance of Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) in the corporate sector. The Weinreb group placed more than 100 CSOs and advised many companies on how to integrate sustainability into their business. In the conversation she discussed various aspects such as the growing influence of CSOs, promoting racial diversity in the field, the top skills required for the CSO role, and her optimism towards the prospects of having more CSOs in the near future.
The growing influence of CSOs
12 years ago the primary question was whether the CSO reported directly to the CEO. Ellen and her team found that many CSOs now work directly with boards. Among all of the survey respondents, 99% have an active involvement with the board. Ellen also found that 76% of the CSOs are now on the leadership team which was 41%, 12 years ago.
Diversity in CSO post
Regarding gender diversity, 58 percent CSOs are now women, which was around 50 percent previously. On the other hand, the progress towards achieving racial diversity seems slow as the percentage of diversity floats around 18%, even after 12 years. Ellen expects that there will be an improvement in racial diversity among CSOs in the next report.
Top skills required for the CSO role
Ellen thinks that the most effective CSOs are corporate chameleons. Corporate chameleons are those who can convey complex information in a manner that resonates with and influences the stakeholders they interact with. They have to be up to date with all the trending news. They have to analyze and understand these issues to position their company in a way that reflects their connection to society and the environment. The CSO role is primarily focused on influencing. Other skills required for this role are — resilience, understanding strategy and vision, aligning sustainability strategy to the corporate strategy, and integrating sustainability into the business.
The Bottom Line
Many popular brands like Amazon, Apple, Nike, and Hewlett-Packard are investing significant resources in sustainability. They may not have a specifically designated post for CSO. Ellen believes that many new companies from other industries like utilities and infrastructure may be appointing a CSO for the first time in the near future. She is excited to see the new players in the sustainability arena. Ellen is also curious about when the number of Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) will stop increasing.