in search of chief sustainability officerThere has been an increase in senior-level corporate positions—those with VP and Director titles in the CSR and sustainability sector. Companies are placing an increased value on CSR as a component of corporate strategy, which elevates the importance of positions overseeing CSR.   The emergence of the CSO title is indicative of the growing trend of sustainability as a core business strategy.“CSO” is a title that senior-most CSR executives will increasingly carry.

by Ellen Weinreb, Founder of Sustainability Recruiting. Follow her on Twitter @SustainableJobs. Read the CSR Jobs Report.

As a corporate social responsibility (CSR) recruiter, I study CSR job postings and titles. For the past six years, I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of CSR-related job postings. Recently, I published my biennial CSR Jobs Report, which identifies hiring trends in the field.

One of  the most notable findings is the increase in senior-level corporate positions—those with VP and Director titles. Before 2006, none of the job postings had a title of VP or above. What’s changed? Companies are placing an increased value on CSR as a component of corporate strategy, which elevates the importance of positions overseeing CSR. Dave Stangis, Vice President of CSR and Sustainability at Campbell’s Soup, says: “The emergence of the VP of CSR and VP of Sustainability titles seems proof of the growing strategic business position of CSR.”

But, why stop at Vice President? How high can the title go? What about a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO)? Can CSR find a place in the C-Suite?

It was a reporter who first brought the CSO title to my attention. She had called to interview me for an article on the emergence of CSOs. I told her that, as a sustainability recruiter with 13 years experience in CSR, I had never met a CSO. The article was dropped.

Intrigued, I checked further and found that the media has used CSO title to refer to the senior-most person in charge of corporate social responsibility, even when the position had a different title. For example, an article headlined, Meet Google’s Chief Sustainability Officer, turned out to be  about a 26-year-old who implemented some pretty cool greening strategies, but her title was Corporate Environmental Programs Manager.

Recently, I decided to conduct my own search for the CSO as well as to create my own definition of the role. It turns out that Chief Sustainability Officers do exist.

In my definition, CSO is not simply the senior-most CSR professional for a company.  Rather, the individual 1) holds the title Chief Sustainability Officer, 2) sits amongst the top leaders of the company to make key strategic decisions and 3) is listed on the company’s 10-K, the SEC filing that identifies the corporation’s accountability to shareholders. These final two points are particularly important as they suggest that Sustainability is owned at the top and integral to strategic decision-making.

On LinkedIn, I searched two groups to find some CSO’s. There are 4 CSO’s in the group Sustainability Executive NeTwork (SENT) out of 415 total members. And, there are 3 CSOs out of 75 members of the Chief Sustainability Officers Network.

In searching all 10-K’s, though, I found just 2 CSO’s: David Clary from Albermarle Corporation and Frank O’Brien-Bernini from Owens Corning. I also found that those with the CSO title typically had one or more additional titles. Below are some of the CSO’s

I found.

Name Company Full title

Frank O’Brien-Bernini

Owens Corning

Vice President & Chief Sustainability Officer

David Clary Albermarle Corp

Vice President & Chief Sustainability Officer

Linda Fisher* Dupont

Vice President DuPont Safety, Health & Environment

Chief Sustainability Officer

David Kepler Dow

Executive Vice President, Business Services,

Chief Sustainability Officer, Chief Information Officer

* An executive but not a member of the CEO’s office.

It is no coincidence that all of these are from the chemical and buildings industry.

Their titles make them responsible for not only greening their own operations but also greening their products. [Note from Marc: I”ll have an interview next week with Linda Fisher of Dupont, who tells me that, in fact, she helps the company discover and promote new products that drive sustainable growth.] Just as CSR titles began to proliferate a decade ago, the CSO title will become more common as companies  follow their competitors’ lead.

I believe that “CSO” is a title that senior-most CSR executives will increasingly carry.  They will achieve this not by their individual might and muster, but because more of their peers at competing companies have taken on the title. Should this become industry best practice, questionnaires, surveys and shareholder resolutions will nudge the title further along.

Owens Corning CSO, Frank O’Brien-Bernini, says this about the position:

The emergence of the CSO title is indicative of the growing trend of sustainability as a core business strategy. Sustainability is most effective when its execution is embedded throughout the organization, however, like all “Chief” roles, it’s critical that there is a distinct accountability for functional excellence…and that a high, wide and deep sustainability perspective is integral to the executive leadership team where key decisions are made and strategic direction is set.

After all, few big companies operate without  a CEO, COO (chief operating officer) and CFO (chief financial officer). Many have CMOs (chief marketing officer). When they are joined in the C-Suite by the CSO, we’ll know that sustainability has finally become integral to the core of business.

© 2010, Ellen Weinreb. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Ellen Weinreb (1 Articles)

Ellen Weinreb founded Sustainability Recruiting to fulfill the hiring needs of socially responsible businesses. She brings more than a decade of experience as a consultant with organizations ranging from large multinational corporations—such as Levi Strauss, Hewlett Packard, and Clorox—to start-ups and mid-sized enterprises—such as New Leaf Paper and Calvert Investments. Over the years, Ellen has cultivated a broad professional network and continually stays on top of her field. She is affiliated with several professional associations, including Business for Social Responsibility (member), Net Impact (life time member) and B Corporation (certified). Additionally, she has served as a professor in business ethics at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Follow her on Twitter @SustainableJobs. Read the CSR Jobs Report.

  • http://www.contemporarycommunicationsconsulting.com Elizabeth

    Great trend to track- thanks for this information!

    The companies represented in the list are not typically those the public associates with sustainability. Do “greener” businesses have different titles? Are the responsibilities of a CSO at a corporation like Dow built into the job description of a CEO at a corporation with a sustainable mission/sustainable business model?

    Could be a topic for another article…

  • http://www.recyclematch.com/ BrookeBF

    Like the data on this point. The CSO position makes a lot of sense. Sustainability is NOT a communications function. That mindset only drives green-washing. True sustainable business is really something that CEOs and the entire executive suite should be engaged in. But, in this environment when there is SO much to learn and to do on the sustainability front, it makes sense to bring in an executive team member to stay abreast of the latest trends and to work with the entire organization on their strategies and opportunities in this important area.

    @BrookeBF from @RecycleMatch

  • http://www.acre-resources.com Bethany Cox

    Thanks to Ellen for these interesting insights. We too have been looking into the emerging role of Chief Sustainability Officer and are seeing a growing trend of businesses integrating sustainability into business strategy and the consequential development of a C-level executive sustainability position.

    I would like to share some further resources which include a thought piece by specialist sustainability recruitment company Acre looking at “The Evolution of the Chief Sustainability Officer”
    http://www.acre-resources.com/downloads/Acre%20-%20The-evolution-of-the-Chief-Sustainability-Officer.pdf

    And research from Verdantix entitled “Who should be the Chief Sustainability Officer?” Available to download at http://www.verdantix.com/index.cfm/papers/Products.Details/product_id/95/who-should-be-the-chief-sustainability-officer-/-