CSOs and the city: No longer an anomaly

There are all types of chief sustainability officers (CSOs) out there.

In addition to the corporate CSOs that I have researched, there is a growing number of chief sustainability officers at cities, hospitals and universities. My search firm, Weinreb Group, is currently doing the search for the Chief Sustainability Officer for the city of Palo Alto (applications due April 12).

This search has been an exploration on my part to determine what exactly differentiates the search for the right CSO for a corporation as opposed to a city.

City CSOs

Municipal government sustainability professionals even have their own peer-to-peer resource called the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN), which began in 2009 to share best practices and find answers to common issues facing this group of specialists.

In the network's own words, it "share(s) solutions that improve the natural and built environment, infrastructure, economy, health and resilience of local communities." Problems specific to city CSOs typically include the planning and construction of city buildings and neighborhoods, the transportation of city residents and goods, the overseeing of resources and increasing the city's development, all of which must be done with sustainability in mind.

"Green city leaders in the public sector have many of the same change agent roles as in the private sector, including connector and catalyst," says Julia Parzen, USDN coordinator. "In fact, many USDN members have moved on to take positions in corporate sustainability departments, utilities, consulting firms and nongovernmental organizations."

Different maneuvers to the sustainability game plan

There are both distinctions and similarities between those city and corporate CSOs. The first and most obvious distinction between a city and corporate CSO is that city governments are not profit-seeking like corporations, thus a city CSO has to come at sustainability for their municipality from a civic angle. There are four major distinctions.

Next page: Indirect incentives