Chief Sustainability Officer: What it is and How to Hire One
A relatively new addition to the C-Suite, the role of “Chief Sustainability Officer” is getting a lot of buzz. Today we break it down: what it is and how to hire for one.
What is a Chief Sustainability Officer?
A Chief Sustainability Officer is in charge of sustainability initiatives, including the following:
- Exploring the environmental impact of various business units and expansion plans.
- Analyzing cost/benefit analysis of various environmental initiatives.
- Internal education about sustainability initiatives.
- External communications about sustainability initiatives.
- Advising on green building and manufacturing processes.
The Role of the ESG Movement in Business
From cosmetics to food, the rise of the Chief Sustainability Officer is a part and parcel of a growing interest in organization with the ESG movement or investment and business practices that have a commitment to “Environmental, Social and Governance” matters.
ESG investing means that a company looks at another entities “ESG rating” before making a deal or a commitment, essentially vetting that entity to make sure that their business operations are ethical and/or environmentally minded. Chief Sustainability Officers can be central in making such calculations.
Chief Sustainability Officer Skill Set
The skillset of a Chief Sustainability Officer is normally highly reliant on the industry and company in which one resides, but common threads include:
- Communication skills: ability to communicate the cost/benefit of different types of program; ability to adapt messaging to suit both internal and external stakeholders.
- Team player: adept at working across departments to realize sustainability goals.
- Deep knowledge of trends in the industry, including green building practices, travel policies and other environmental initiatives.
Reporting Structure and Relationship to the CEO
Because the Chief Sustainability Officer role is so new, it often reports to the CEO directly, with a high degree of contact between this role and Operations, Finance, Legal, and sometimes Marketing.
For that reason, candidates must be adept at carving out their own place in a rapidly changing environment, and being flexible in how they interface with other department heads.
A Chief Sustainability Officer’s Mandate
Chief Sustainability Officers are charged with spearheading any and all sustainability initiatives within a company, whether than has to do with green builds, retrofits, business travel policies, volunteer initiatives, waste management, recycling, giving and investment, and internal and external communications about those initiatives.
Why You Might Want to Consider Hiring a Chief of Sustainability
Sustainability initiatives are often close to a business’ core values, as in the case of Patagonia.
They can also be an important part of a company burnishing their public image, through marketing, advertising and external communications.
In employment surveys, like this one that we did, it often becomes clear that sustainability is a major factor in driving employee satisfaction. Workers, and especially younger workers, want to know that the companies they work for have a cognizance of the environment and take steps to minimize their footprint, whether that’s through on-site programs or more strategic aims.
Looking to Hire a Chief Sustainability Officer?
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