What is a CSO and does every company need one?

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Natalie Marchant, Writer, Formative Content

  • A Chief Sustainability Officer drives the sustainability strategy of an organization, championing and monitoring its efforts.
  • 76% of people expect companies, rather than governments, to lead the way on climate change.
  • While 46% of people believe top talent would only want to work at companies with sustainable business practices.

The role of Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) may be a relatively new one, but it is fast becoming essential in the boardroom, as concerns about climate change increasingly dominate the global agenda.

A CSO drives the sustainability strategy of an organization, and champions and monitors its efforts. The role started appearing in the early 2000s in response to the rise of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) movement – and was originally dismissed as a glorified marketing position. It is now a fixture in the C-suite.

The benefits of putting sustainability at the heart of corporate strategy are multi-fold – from boosting profits to improving the company’s reputation and making them more likely to attract and retain talent.

Businesses expected to take the lead on climate change

Customers increasingly expect businesses, rather than governments, to take direct action on issues such as climate change. Edelman’s 2019 Trust Barometer showed that 76% of people expected CEOs to lead the way on change, rather than waiting for regulation.

In addition, investors and other market players such as lenders are increasingly integrating ESG considerations into investment decisions, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Corporate governance and sustainability are also increasingly relevant to many employees. The 2019 HP Workforce Sustainability Survey found that 46% of respondents believed top talent would only want to work at companies with sustainable business practices, while 96% would recommend their workplace to others if these practices were ahead of others.

Sustainability more important than ever

CSOs can have a big impact on business, and with companies across the world focused on surviving the COVID-19 pandemic, their role is perhaps more important than ever, according to Thomas Singer, writing in the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance.

Businesses with robust sustainability schemes are more likely to perform well during a downturn, he argues, and those with a defined corporate purpose, awareness of broader societal challenges, engagement with stakeholders and a collaborative culture are more likely to prosper in the long run, he adds.

Meanwhile, Lindsay Hooper, executive director of education at the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, stressed that the role of CSO should form only a part of a business’s sustainability agenda and that there was a growing need for executive teams to be challenged on how they address issues.

“This requires not just dependence on a CSO, but a board that is able to guide a strategic approach that proactively develops solutions to difficult issues such as navigating the economics of transition to a sustainable future,” she told the Financial Times.

Benefits to companies big and small

CSOs can make a difference to companies of all sizes. The CEO of Swedish retail giant H&M Group, Helena Helmersson, was once its CSO, and she says putting sustainability at the core of business is a way “to accelerate the pace of change”. In 2019, the company’s global operating profit was $1.8 billion.

But smaller businesses can also benefit. UK-based organic baby food company, Ella’s Kitchen, is a certified B corporation for its environmental and social performance, whose CEO Mark Cuddigan is also head of sustainability – or ‘the good stuff’ as they call it.

Last year, Ella’s Kitchen – which is working towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger – achieved a turnover of £73 million ($98.7m), despite uncertainty over Brexit.

With sustainability and survivability at the top of most businesses’ agendas as the pandemic continues, the role of CSO is likely to become ever-more relevant.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Yemen: ‘No justification for this carnage,’ says UNICEF chief, as children in need now outnumber population of Switzerland

Environmental labelling, information and management schemes are central to the circular economy

How COVID could democratise commutes

At least half of people who have a job fear they’ll lose it in the next 12 months

How COVID-19 could open the door for driverless deliveries

“None of our member states has the dimension to compete with China and the US, not even Germany!”, Head of EUREKA Pedro Nunes on another Sting Exclusive

‘Crimes against humanity,’ ‘war crimes’ and risk of new ethnic violence in DR Congo, warn UN experts

EU industry: Commission takes action to improve synergies between civil, defence and space industries

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: Busting the myth by looking at the facts

The world is failing miserably on access to education. Here’s how to change course

Human trafficking, slavery reports and health of migrants in Libya

Urgent action needed to address growing opioid crisis

The issue of mental health for modern young doctors

Link between conflict and hunger worldwide, ‘all too persistent and deadly’, says new UN report

How Eurozone consumers spend their income when they have one…

The countries most ready for the global energy transition

How the world can ‘reset’ itself after COVID-19 – according to these experts

UN experts decry torture of Rakhine men and boys held incommunicado by Myanmar’s military

34 million Americans know someone who died after being unable to pay for medical treatment

Germany caught with selfish double standards in euro area policy

Mergers: Commission approves Synthomer’s acquisition of Omnova, subject to conditions

Easing funding woes for UN agency assisting Palestine refugees a ‘wise investment for today and the future’

‘Foreign children’ in overwhelmed Syrian camp need urgent international help, says top UN official

“As German Chancellor I want to be able to cope with the merger of the real and digital economy”, Angela Merkel from Switzerland; the Sting reports live from World Economic Forum 2015 in Davos

7 simple steps we can all take to reduce food waste

‘Being open about my mental health created a better work culture’

5 myths about face masks under the microscope

COVID-19 is likely to increase youth unemployment in Africa, this is how business can mitigate the damage

This is why retail is such a sore point in India-US trade relations

Corporate tax remains a key revenue source, despite falling rates worldwide

Trust in OECD governments back at pre-crisis levels as governments seek to be more open and engaged

Coronavirus: Commission stands ready to continue supporting EU’s agri-food sector

Mental health in times of a pandemic: what can each individual do to lessen the burden?

A brief history of vaccines and how they changed the world

Quicker freezing and confiscation of criminal assets in the EU

Madagascar: UN chief commends nation on first round of peaceful elections

How trade tariffs could help combat climate change

Mental health in a pandemic: what to do to ease the burden on people with disabilities?

Home working has exposed us all to more cybercrime. Here’s how to close the breach

How we can win the war against antibiotic resistance

Globalization 4.0 must provide for the poorest, or it risks causing chaos for everyone

JADE Spring Meeting 2015: a step forward for Youth Entrepreneurship

Coronavirus: harmonised standards for medical devices to respond to urgent needs

Giving humanitarian help to migrants should not be a crime, say MEPs

This electric plane has flown successfully for 30 minutes – is this the future of flying?

Fighting crime: faster EU-wide exchange of non-EU nationals’ criminal records

3 challenges facing global gig economy growth after COVID-19

Neither side stands to benefit in US-China trade spat, UN says

‘InvestEU’ programme: big boost for jobs, growth and investment

Prospect of lasting peace ‘fading by the day’ in Gaza and West Bank, senior UN envoy warns

Virtual Doctor: a core part of modern healthcare?

“Asia-Pacific takes stock of ambitious development targets”, written by the Heads of UNFPA and ESCAP

Dozens of children at risk as clashes in Hudaydah near hospital – UNICEF

Click and Download: your app is ready to help you save lives

It’s time to stop talking about ethics in AI and start doing it

A new tidal energy project just hit a major milestone in Scotland

“Private” sea freight indexes hide Libor like skeletons?

Italy’s Letta: A European Banking Union soon or Eurozone collapses

The EU Commission predicts a decimated growth in the next years

‘Stay together and step up’ action to meet Global Goals, ECOSOC President tells development forum

More Stings?


Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s