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Prince Charles urges businesses to appoint 'suitably empowered' CSOs

Prince of Wales argues board-level chief sustainability officers are "increasingly central to market competitiveness."

Prince Charles at climate talks in 2015

The Prince of Wales has called on all major companies to appoint "suitably empowered" chief sustainability officers to help embed environmental and climate change efforts into business strategies, arguing such roles are "increasingly central to market competitiveness."

Launching a new taskforce bringing together 30 of the world's top C-suite sustainability leaders last week, His Royal Highness said such roles were "fast becoming the most important and influential in the corporate world" due to their part in driving long-term commercial success and stability for companies.

"I very much hope to see major businesses around the world appoint suitably empowered chief sustainability offers to ensure sustainability is central to business strategy, decision-making, procurement, supply chains and customer engagement," Charles said.

"Sustainability leaders need to work hand-in-hand with C-Suite counterparts bringing them along as part of the solution, and with younger employees who I know care deeply about sustainability and want to see real demonstrable action. Increasingly businesses are expected to be responsible global citizens delivering returns not only for shareholders but for society and for nature — chief sustainability officers are critical to meeting this expectation."

The launch of the new group, dubbed S30, follows a recent KPMG survey of 500 C-suite business leaders worldwide which found almost three-quarters believe their businesses lack the critical skills required to deliver the net-zero transition, raising concerns that a failure to upskill their workforce in order to confront climate-related risks could pose a serious threat to economic stability.

A growing number of top businesses have appointed dedicated chief sustainability officers in recent years, but the role remains something of a rarity in boardrooms around the world with C-level responsibility for sustainability often assigned to chief operations, finance or marketing officers, who then appoint sustainability executives to lead environmental initiatives.

The new S30 groups aims to help make the case for the appointment of chief sustainability officers, while also providing a forum for senior sustainability leaders drawn from some of the world's biggest corporates to share best practices and undertake collaborative efforts to advance corporate sustainability globally.

Launched by the Sustainable Markets Initiative, consulting giant EY and communications company Freuds, the S30 taskforce is due to meet four times a year with a mission to "accelerate business action on sustainability," and encourage more firms to appoint top-level corporate sustainability executives.

I very much hope to see major businesses around the world appoint suitably empowered chief sustainability offers to ensure sustainability is central to business strategy, decision-making, procurement, supply chains and customer engagement.

The Prince of Wales said no industry alone was able to tackle the climate and environmental crises the world faces, and that collaborative efforts such as S30 were, therefore, key to driving the development of innovative solutions and business models.

"We are at the beginning of the Decade of Action, but time is already running out," he said. "We must urgently reverse the environmental challenges the world faces to protect it for future generations. I believe fundamentally that the private sector has a crucial role to play in solving the health, climate and biodiversity crises we all face."

Members of the S30 taskforce represent a market capitalization of around $6.7 trillion, total 2019 revenues of $2.3 trillion, and in excess of 5 million employees worldwide across sectors such as industrial products, retail, energy, oil and gas, financial services and technology, according to the Sustainable Markets Initiative.

EY Global Vice Chair Steve Varley is to co-chair the S30 taskforce alongside Freuds CEO Arlo Brady.

Varley said the S30 forum would "ask the most challenging business questions facing our planet today and use the collective power of the group to find answers."

"We must make sustainability inclusive for all stakeholders if we are to build a better working world for future generations, and this group is an important step forward in helping make that a reality," he added.

The move came in the same week as the U.K. government announced it will form a Net Zero Business Taskforce as part of its wide-ranging 10 Point Plan for a Green Recovery, which stressed the critical role corporate leaders and private investors have to play in driving the net-zero transition.

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