Tag Archive for: Chief Sustainability Officer

What Is a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO)?

As sustainability has become increasingly important in the business world, more and more companies are hiring a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) to oversee their sustainability efforts.

The job duties of a CSO vary depending on the company and industry, but in general, a CSO is responsible for developing and implementing strategies to ensure that the company operates in an environmentally sustainable and socially responsible manner.

This Nature’s Packaging post will explore the job duties of a CSO, why a company would hire one, and provide real-life examples of CSOs that work for companies in the forest products industry.

Job Duties of a CSO

The job duties of a CSO typically include developing and implementing sustainability strategies, monitoring the company’s environmental and social performance, engaging with stakeholders, managing sustainability-related risks and opportunities, and communicating the company’s sustainability efforts to internal and external audiences. A CSO may be responsible for:

  1. Developing and implementing sustainability strategies: The CSO is responsible for developing a sustainability strategy that aligns with the company’s overall business strategy. This may involve setting sustainability targets, identifying sustainability risks and opportunities, and developing plans to reduce the company’s environmental and social impact.
  2. Monitoring environmental and social performance: The CSO is responsible for monitoring the company’s environmental and social performance, including tracking greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, waste generation, and social impact metrics. This involves working with other departments within the company to gather data and analyze performance.
  3. Engaging with stakeholders: The CSO is responsible for engaging with stakeholders, including investors, customers, suppliers, and local communities. This may involve holding meetings or consultations to gather feedback on the company’s sustainability efforts and collaborating with stakeholders to develop sustainability initiatives.
  4. Managing sustainability-related risks and opportunities: The CSO is responsible for identifying sustainability-related risks and opportunities and developing strategies to manage them. This may involve working with other departments within the company to develop risk management plans and conducting sustainability assessments of suppliers and partners.
  5. Communicating sustainability efforts: The CSO is responsible for communicating the company’s sustainability efforts to internal and external audiences. This may involve developing sustainability reports, presenting sustainability data to investors and other stakeholders, and engaging with the media to promote the company’s sustainability initiatives.

Why Hire a Chief Sustainability Officer?

Companies hire CSOs for several reasons. First, a CSO can help a company improve its sustainability performance, reduce its environmental impact, and enhance its reputation with customers and investors.

Second, a CSO can help a company identify and manage sustainability-related risks and opportunities, which can lead to cost savings and increased efficiency.

Finally, a CSO can help a company stay ahead of evolving sustainability regulations and standards, ensuring that the company is compliant with all relevant regulations.

Examples of a Chief Sustainability Officer

Real-life examples of CSO’s in the forest products industry include:

  • Sophie Beckham-Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer, International Paper: International Paper is one of the world’s leading producers of renewable fiber-based packaging, pulp, and paper. Sophie Beckham is responsible for leading International Paper’s sustainability efforts, including setting targets to reduce the company’s greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, and waste generation.
  • Deborah Dull-Principal and Founder, Circular Supply Chain Network: Deborah Dull is a sustainability consultant who works with companies in the forest products industry to develop circular supply chain strategies that reduce waste and improve efficiency. She has worked with companies such as Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble to develop innovative sustainability initiatives.
  • Emilio Tenuta-Vice President of Corporate Sustainability, Ecolab: Ecolab provides water, hygiene, and energy technologies and services to customers in a variety of industries, including the forest products industry. Emilio Tenuta is responsible for leading Ecolab’s sustainability efforts, including developing and implementing sustainability strategies that align with the company’s business objectives and customer needs.

The role of a Chief Sustainability Officer is becoming increasingly important in today’s business world as companies strive to improve their sustainability performance and reduce their environmental impact.

What is a Chief Sustainability Officer?

The Chief Sustainability Officer

What is a Chief Sustainability Officer?

The recent emergence of the Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) role as a C-suite executive is a signal that sustainability initiatives are now a center stage concern in the modern corporate environment.

In the latter 20th century, sustainability was more likely to have been promoted by volunteer champions or green project teams. However, when sustainability as a corporate goal gradually evolved, the role became combined with compliance oversight (such as from a Health, Safety, and Environmental manager or director).

Regulatory compliance was the emphasis. Initially, there was little thought given to the importance of sustainability in building brand and employee loyalty, not to mention its potential to re-invent company strategy.

Given today’s concern regarding climate change, along with increasingly complex sustainability reporting requirements, the business playing field has fundamentally shifted. The crucial role that CSOs can play has hastened their entry – and acceptance – into the boardrooms of major corporations.

The Chief Sustainability Officer is the highest-ranking executive of an organization explicitly charged with providing oversight to the company’s sustainability impacts, activities, and aspirations. The CSO advocates for sustainability improvements, and must bring a broad skill set to the table, including leadership experience, environmental and business management acumen, and effective public relations skills.

Typical career path for a Chief Sustainability Officer

Because the CSO role has only come into being recently, career paths leading to that position have been diverse. People have come from various educational backgrounds such as:

  • business management,
  • environmental studies,
  • computer science,
  • and legal training.

However, more and more business education programs with a sustainability focus are now available. Institutions such as San Francisco State University, Antioch University New England and Clark University offer MBA programs with sustainability or sustainable business concentrations.

Along with the maturation of the sustainability function within organizations, better-defined career pathways are beginning to emerge, such as sustainability intern positions and administrative/managerial roles reporting to the CSO.

CSO Role in the company

As the highest-ranking executive responsible for sustainability within an organization, the CSO’s role can vary depending upon the company’s level of commitment,

According to one study, researchers categorized three commitment levels:

  • Compliance – the focus is on meeting regulatory requirements, with little centralization or coordination of efforts.
  • Efficiency – a greater strategic emphasis on finding ways to improve efficiencies and lower costs, such as cutting energy usage or reducing solid waste generation. At this stage, the CSO may be responsible for identifying and executing such cost-reduction strategies across the organization.
  • Innovation – a strategic shift from finding efficiency gains to integrating sustainability aspirations into the core business. The focus shifts to the maximization of long-term profitability through identifying strategies that also support positive environmental and social change, such as through sustainable procurement. The CSO helps develop the company’s sustainability strategy as well as the roadmap to achieve it.

CSO – Job Responsibilities

The job responsibilities of the CSO can be diverse and will vary depending upon the industry and the sustainability aspirations of the company. Universally, there are activities that help embed sustainability into the company’s culture. These may include:

  • Developing an in-depth understanding of the company and industry, including crucial sustainability issues
  • Managing environmental regulation and certification reporting requirements
  • Setting sustainability goals and priorities
  • Identifying, evaluating and implementing programs that improve sustainability
  • Leading regional sustainability round tables to drive strategy, project ownership and employee engagement
  • Participating in facility tours and identifying local champions
  • Coaching and mentoring of other executives
  • Interaction with external stakeholders such as trading partners, regulators, industry groups, certification bodies, and the media.
  • Maintaining professional standing by attending training sessions or related events, and sharing insights with the relevant corporate teams
  • Helping to create transformational strategies that embed sustainability into the heart of the business

Examples of the Chief Sustainability Officer

Dane Parker became CSO of General Motors Co., effective February 2020. It is a new position for GM. He most recently served as the company’s vice president of sustainable workplaces. In that role, he helped GM reduce its manufacturing carbon intensity by 20% – three years ahead of its goal – enabling it to become an EPA-recognized leader in energy efficiency and renewable energy utilization.

 In this role, Parker will lead a company-wide sustainability strategy, including the integration of the company’s goal to reach a zero-emissions future. His team will ensure the responsible consumption and production of materials, lead GM’s efforts as a global advocate for climate-sensitive manufacturing and mobility operations while leading the strategic design and implementation infrastructure for electric vehicles at GM facilities.

Parker joined GM in July 2015 as executive director of global facilities. Before joining GM, he was vice president of global real estate, facilities and environment, health, and safety for Dell Inc. 

Michael Kobori became the first CSO for Starbucks in early 2020 after serving 22 years with Levi Straus & Co. He was Vice President, Sustainability for 13 years at Levi Straus, and before that, was Director, Global Code of Conduct. He received a Masters Degree in Public Policy from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1995.

He has joined Starbucks at a crucial juncture in its sustainability journey. “Our aspiration is to become resource positive – storing more carbon than we emit, eliminating waste, and providing more clean freshwater than we use,” Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said in an open letter.

“The crisis that the planet is in is impacting people, is impacting our customers, is impacting our partners, and is impacting farmers who grow our coffee all around the world and their communities,” Kobori told Fast Company. “So it’s not going to be enough to simply reduce our own footprint. Our long-term vision is we’ve got to reverse that.”

With this reversal in mind, Starbucks has introduced five strategies, including an increased emphasis on plant-based food, as well as reusable packaging, regenerative agricultural practices, innovative waste management and innovation toward eco-friendly stores and operations.

In summary, the need for the Chief Sustainability Officer has emerged in response to a recognition that it is no longer “business as normal”. The influence of the CSO in helping organizations achieve their sustainability aspirations will accelerate in the years ahead.

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