chief sustainability officerVerdantix, recently released a free report, that explains why the Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) is needed, defines the role of the CSO, and provides a profile to guide the appointment of the CSO.  It also explains why organizations face a climate change and sustainability management deficit, why fixing sustainability governance gains is becoming a major priority by a growing number of firms, how the CSO can spearhead business transformation, who the ideal candidate for the chief sustainability officer role is, and what are the three priority areas of domain expertise.

by Tracey de Morsella, Green Economy Post

The independent research firm, Verdantix, recently released a free report, Who Should Be The Chief Sustainability Officer, which explains why the Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) is needed, defines the role of the CSO and provides a profile to guide the appointment of a CSO.

Case studies of the following companies used in the study: Allianz Insurance, British Airways, BT, CA, Carbon Systems, CH2M Hill, Chrysler, Cisco, Deloitte, The Dow Chemical Company, ECX, Fiat, Ford, General Electric, General Motors, Hara, IBM, IHS, Kroger, McKinsey &  Company, Microsoft, Norman Broadbent, Orange, SAP, Shell, Siemens, Tesco, Toyota, Unilever, UTC  The responsibilities for the CSOs in these organization are similar: develop climate change strategy, improve sustainability governance, launch climate change and sustainability products and implement policies that move the organization on a global basis towards strategic sustainable business goals.  These organizations have appointed senior executives to lead their companies’ sustainability initiatives.

Organizations Face a Climate Change and Sustainability management Deficit because of:

  • A combination of new regulations and uncoordinated climate change and sustainability initiatives.
  • Ambitious climate change and sustainability plans initiated prior to the economic meltdown, suffered when it came to implementation because many organizations had hiring freezes.  This forced them to overload staffing and forego bringing in the necessary expertise.
  • C-suite disinterest in sustainability risks and opportunities has created huge competitve gaps.
  • Lack of attention and understanding of boards of directors regarding the long-term impact of climate change often leads to a piecemeal approach to climate changes and sustainability challenges, which over the long run will disrupt value chains.

Fixing Sustainability Governance Gains Urgency in 2010

  • Transforming an organization’s business model often takes decades.  Creating a low carbon business model is no exception, so it is likely most companies will not achieve their target emissions goals by 2020.
  • Climate change and sustainable growth markets offer many organizations an opportunity to rebuild profits after a global trend of cost cutting with companies seeing untapped operational efficiencies dwindle.
  • Global adoption of climate change regulations has raised compliance risks, with company director being held responsible for the compliance data reported to government. Most companies are increasingly exposed to inaccurate carbon reporting risks as they are still using Microsoft Excel.
  • Firms with less developed climate change and sustainability strategies will become less competitive as an increasing number of organizations appoint senior executives to lead climate change and sustainability programs, as well as back them with the finding to drive competitive advantage.

The Chief Sustainability Officer Spearheads Business Transformation

Firms who address climate change with stop gap measures will find that they are not adequate to implement necessary complex sustainable business strategies. This management deficit is exacerbated by market trends which increase risks and highlight opportunities.   To tackle these issue organizations need to abandon tactical approaches and switch to a strategic program. They should also appoint a senior executive who

  • Defines a five to 10 year sustainability strategy with the executive team, which will establish the missing interface between funding priorities and the pool of business cases circulating in functional areas like supply chain and IT.
  • Implements a CEO backed multi-year sustainable business transformation program.
  • Identifies significant revenue opportunities requiring C-Level investment, making it a strategic priority, which is necessary for the climate change and sustainability to gain traction with the organization.
  • Creates organization-wide sustainability data management and metrics initiatives to ensure accuracy and consistency, which ultimately enables him/her to set targets and make operational improvements.
  • Ensures that the firm achieves energy efficiency and carbon reduction goals
  • Engages with policy makers to align strategy with forthcoming policy and regulatory decisions.

Who is The Ideal Candidate For The Chief Sustainability Officer Role

  • The Chief Sustainability Officer requires board functional experience and a strong personal network within the firm based on at least 10 years of services.
  • Business transformation experience (post-merger integration or restructuring) to management complexity.
  • Ten Years of general management experience in the same firm so that he or she knows what makes key decision-makers tick and the climate change and sustainability program with existing priorities and big personalities.
  • Innovation expertise to evangelize disruptive change as he or she needs to work with with product, marketing and sales leaders to design, launch and succeed with new climate change and sustainability offerings.

Industry expertise have also prioritized three areas of domain expertise.

  • Corporate social responsibility for reporting and communications to stakeholders
  • Understanding of energy management to deliver efficiency gains and CO2 reductions which supports initiatives to identify and report back on energy cost savings and to ensure data collection for GHG reporting and brand communications.
  • Manufacturing expertise to enhance natural resource efficiency

So who is the idea candidate for the Chief Sustainability Officer Role?  Download the Verdantix free document Who Should Be The Chief Sustainability Officer? to view the five key capabilities and example behaviors, as well as the CEO Checklist to Appoint The Ideal Chief Sustainability Officer.

© 2010, Tracey de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Tracey de Morsella (323 Articles)

Tracey de Morsella started her career working as an editor for US Technology Magazine. She used that experience to launch Delaware Valley Network, a publication for professionals in the Greater Philadelphia area. Years later, she used the contacts and resources she acquired to work in executive search specializing in technical and diversity recruitment. She has conducted recruitment training seminars for Wachovia Bank, the Department of Interior and the US Postal Service. During this time, she also created a diversity portal called The Multicultural Advantage and published the Diversity Recruitment Advertising Toolkit, a directory of recruiting resources for human resources professionals. Her career and recruitment articles have appeared in numerous publications and web portals including Woman Engineer Magazine,, Job Search Channel, Workplace Diversity Magazine, Society for Human Resource Management web site, NSBE Engineering Magazine,, and Human Resource Consultants Association Newsletter. Her work with technology professionals drew her to pursuing training and work in web development, which led to a stint at Merrill Lynch as an Intranet Manager. In March, she decided to combine her technical and career management expertise with her passion for the environment, and with her husband, launched The Green Economy Post, a blog providing green career information and covering the impact of the environment, sustainable building, cleantech and renewable energy on the US economy. Her sustainability articles have appeared on Industrial Maintenance & Plant Operation, Chem.Info,FastCompany and CleanTechies.

  • Rich Becks

    A key to success for a Chief Sustainability Officer is the ability to quantify and explain why sustainability actually means long term profitability. This is especially true in the case of a firms Supply Chain. As energy and regulatory costs rise it will be necessary to re-think global supply chains. For more on this check out my blog at: