The Role Of A Chief Sustainability Officer Is At The Forefront Of Business



In Edelman’s 2019 Trust Barometer global report, 76% of respondents expect CEOs to lead the way forward to maintain sustainable practices for businesses. They look to business leaders to affect change rather than waiting on regulations to pass. 


A CSO works with the CEO to implement plans and courses of action that are beneficial to the organization, its employees, and the environment. For this reason and more, the role of a Chief Sustainability Officer is tremendously important. 




The Growing Need for Sustainability in Business 


Sustainability has always mattered, but in current times, its role has only become more crucial. 


A paper out of Harvard Law School explains how sustainability is a major factor in the survivability of a business, noting that “companies with robust sustainability programs are more likely to perform well during a downturn.” 


As the world suffers from COVID-19, sustainable strategies could make or break a business’ ability to keep its doors open. The rapid onset of a global pandemic shows how sustainable measures that are fortified with a long-term and strategic approach can provide a business with both protection and a perspective that makes it easier to overcome challenges. 


Therefore, when a crisis hits, companies that have invested in operating sustainably will have an easier time making decisions, maintaining engagement, remaining transparent, and implementing innovative ways to grow. 


These practices matter in both good times and bad. Thomas Lingard, the Global Sustainability Director of Unilever shares, “as collective awareness of the climate and ecological emergency rises, leadership will no longer be determined by WHAT your organisation is committed to do but rather HOW it seeks to deliver.”


This being said, sustainability doesn’t single-handedly fall on a chief sustainability officer’s shoulders. It requires a group effort from the C-suite to provide a top-down approach so that organizations collectively operate in ways that are best for the society and economy. 


In turn, customers are conscious of a company’s sustainability measures and tend to support businesses that are good for the environment over those that are not. 



CSOs are More than Strategists 


A chief sustainability officer is responsible for analyzing a business’ operations in an effort to set in place practices that establish stability and minimize any negative environmental consequences. While the position is highly strategic as CSOs develop plans, design policies, set goals, and share objectives, a CSO must be multi-faceted, and at times, hands-on. 


While sharing his views on how to make sustainability work, PepsiCo’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Jim Andrew expressed: “You got to embed it in the business strategy, the business processes and the actions everybody takes every day.” 


CSOs work directly with CEOs and the organization’s personnel on the ground to remain involved during each phase of production. They play a major role in achieving efficiency, spurring innovation, adhering to regulations, and solving complex problems. They are responsible for actively monitoring and reporting outcomes to stakeholders, government agencies, management, and even customers. 



The Business Benefits of Operating Sustainably 


With a CSO on board, a company has the opportunity and ability to transform inputs to outputs while mitigating any harm to people and the planet. 


But operating sustainability doesn’t only help to improve profits. The benefits of having a CSO and being a conscious company are far-reaching. 


Here are some of the essential functions that are directly impacted via a CSO’s involvement in the business:



Brand image


According to a Nielsen report, 66% of consumers reported that they’d spend more money on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand. Companies have the opportunity to boost their brand awareness and even gain market share simply by “doing the right thing.” 



Less waste


A company that focuses on reducing its waste to support the environment reduces one’s own wastage overall. Sustainable operations are centered around the use of the least raw materials, a minimization of by-products from processes, and the utilization of efficient resources. In effect, there’s a reduction of unnecessary inputs to continue to maintain the same (or sometimes possibly higher) levels of output. 



Talent pool 


Not only does sustainability affect how customers make decisions, but it also can inform how talent searches for jobs. 46% of respondents in the 2019 HP Workforce Sustainability Survey reported that they believe the best talent would only want to work at companies that operate with sustainable practices. When employees’ values are aligned with business processes, it’s more likely that they will remain engaged and inspired by the work they conduct. 





In some instances, operating sustainably isn’t a choice at all, it’s a requirement by the law. The government plays their role in passing laws and regulations to reduce emissions and slow down climate change. As such, certain industries and companies must adhere. 



Lower costs 


Although some may argue that sustainable operations can chip away at profit and cost a lot with initial investments, the results tend to lower cost overall. This is because sustainable operations include energy efficiency, which reduces bills and can improve employee productivity. Additionally, operations that have streamlined business processes reduce waste, thereby cutting costs. Long-term results of sustainability more often than not justify any initial investments that need to be made. 



The Outlook for CSOs is Promising  


As awareness of sustainable practices continues to be at the top of mind for both consumers and companies alike, it’s clear why the role of a chief sustainability officer is promising.


The job growth for top executives is expected to grow at about 4% from 2019 to 2029. With required skills like strategic thinking, technological acumen, leadership abilities, communication skills, and critical thinking, chief sustainability officers work alongside executives to make a positive impact in society. 


Google’s Sustainability Officer Kate Brandt says it best, “… Every business has both the opportunity and the obligation to protect our planet… It’s about truly enabling everyone – businesses, policymakers, and consumers – to live and create a more sustainable world together.”