Secrets of Chief Sustainability Officers Revealed

If you dream of moving up the ranks to one day assuming the role of chief sustainability officer (CSO), you'll probably want to download a copy of the new report, "CSO Back Story"

The report from the Weinreb Group chronicles the recent rise of the CSO and identifies the major players in the market and how they got there. What the group found may surprise you.

Just four of the 29 CSOs identified at publicly-traded companies have MBA degrees, and all but four were hired internally, having proven themselves as business leaders during an average of 16 years at the company. All have their own budgets, while just 12 sit on executive committees that make all strategic decisions, including those unrelated to sustainability. DuPont was the first company to appoint a CSO in 2004 when it named Linda Fisher to the role.

"This data demonstrates the value for executive leaders to bring acute understanding of external factors such as climate change into business strategy. Having a Sustainability Chief on the executive team supports developing new business opportunities and avoid costly risks," CEO Ellen Weinreb said in a statement. "Business dynamics are changing and so must those who manage. These CSOs are charting new territory that will increasingly define which organizations are successful in the long run."

The report takes a deeper dive into the roles of five CEOs we've covered quite a bit at GreenBiz.com, including Kathrin Winkler at EMC, Peter Graf at SAP, Charlene Lake at AT&T, Scott Wicker at UPS and DuPont's Fisher. There are also a set of best practices that any professional should heed, whether their title has sustainability in it or otherwise, such as representing the company externally or acting as a catalyst of change. And because it's such a new role, CSO often have to blaze their own trail.

"Being able to make something work without a textbook," Fisher said, "is valuable in a developing field that sometimes meets resistance."

[Editor's note: This is an updated version that corrects Linda Fisher's employer. Fisher is the chief sustainability officer of DuPont.]

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Philippe Put.