What do businesses think of their CSOs?
Companies share the challenges, strengths and perceptions of chief sustainability officers with GlobeScan and BSR in a recent survey.
In our first 2015 edition of Proof Points, we take a look at the impact that a chief sustainability officer can have on corporate sustainability. Successful men and women in business know that gaining internal buy-in for a program is crucial in any organization, but what if there is no one to champion sustainability as a critical component of business strategy?
The CSO is the ambassador with the vision, whose presence in an organization helps foster buy-in across the company, and is the one who decides what needs to change when it comes to how the company is interacting with the communities and the broader societal context in which it operates.
According to the 2014 GlobeScan/BSR State of Sustainable Business study, the CSO role is evolving into one that cannot be separated from the core business. When asked what qualities are most important for a CSO to be successful, sustainability professionals identify good business sense and credibility as the most important by far (see chart below).
The call for business acumen and credibility in this role echoes the need for companies to integrate sustainability into core business functions, from high-level strategic applications to everyday operational activities. According to the same BSR survey, sustainability professionals also qualify the integration of sustainability into core business as the most significant challenge for leadership today (see chart below). More than any other issue, this has remained the most important challenge for business to address over the past three years.
When asked about the potential impact that a CSO can have on sustainability strategy (see chart below), sustainability professionals with a CSO at their company were twice as likely as those without one to qualify a “very significant impact.” Among respondents whose companies lack a CSO, a significant proportion was unable to answer. Regardless of the perceived impact of a CSO, the presence of this sustainability executive appears to boost awareness of sustainability among employees.
Companies need to be nimble and flexible in their sustainability strategies to reflect continually changing social expectations — transitions that can be facilitated by a well-informed CSO with the ability to influence the CEO to drive progress and innovation across the business.