My defining moment? Earning a permanent seat at the table

As a CSO, I, like many of my counterparts, am fortunate to have access to and support from my CEO. If you need to break down a door to get into your CEO’s office however, my advice to you is not to do it to ask him or her to call the president about keeping the United States in the Paris Climate treaty.

Do it to make your CEO understand that you deserve a permanent seat at his or her table, and that he or she will make better decisions if you're in the room than if you're not. Do it to persuade him or her that regardless of political winds, sustainability will help you drive business results, reduce risk and enhance your brand. 

Don't get me wrong: The United States should absolutely stay in the Paris agreement, and stay active and committed to meeting the COP21 targets. And companies should definitely be vocal about the importance to U.S. security, competitiveness and credibility of addressing climate change across nations. (Editor's note: As of this writing, President Donald Trump has postponed making a decision about his country's commitment to the Paris pact. Read our analysis of this latest development here.)

But my defining moment as a CSO is definitely not to tell my CEO to tell someone else what they should do. It is to earn a place at his table and to get my entire organization to act, top to bottom. 

In fact, sustainability leaders across many organizations have been hard at work getting their companies to engage and lead on this topic.

Over 1,000 American businesses, including NRG where I work, have signed the Business Backs a Low-Carbon USA letter. Some of these same companies have been coming to Washington, D.C., to meet with lawmakers and regulators of both parties to make the case for American leadership on sustainable business.

Nearly half of Fortune 500 companies have at least one climate or clean energy goal, and over 80 percent of them publish a sustainability report, compared to less than 20 percent just a few years ago. Nearly 100 large companies have committed to sourcing 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources. Over 1,200 companies have put an internal price on carbon and using this to inform strategic decisions.

These achievements are the direct result of the commitment, tenacity and clarity of corporate sustainability leaders and their teams. These same individuals increasingly are getting their boards of directors to provide oversight for sustainability strategy, integrating sustainability into enterprise risk management, working with their investor relations team to engage investors on these topics, and so on.

This didn’t happen because politicians and regulators made us do it and will not stop just because a new administration is in Washington, D.C. It happens because CSOs are making sustainability an unavoidable platform for success and clear value creation in their organizations, and backing that up with a strong business case.