A day in the life of a CSO: Plus ça change

Getting Real

A day in the life of a CSO: Plus ça change

Three years ago, I posted a description of a representative day in my professional life. I admit that I'd saved that topic for a time when I was feeling uninspired, thinking it wouldn't interest anyone much since it wasn't thinking any "big thoughts." Yet it turned out to be one of my most-visited posts ever, so I was of course glad I'd done it.

And now I'm glad I did it for another reason. It gave me something to look back and ponder whether and how my job has changed (or not) in 3 1/2 years.

Now let me start by noting that if there was no such thing as a "typical day" in 2009, it is even less the case now. One day can be a "phone potato" day (back-to-back conference calls), the next day a sprint between back-to-back physical meetings, the next on a plane, then a conference or customer visit, and then — maybe — a "jeans day" with a nice smattering of conference calls, 1x1 meetings and even an hour of quiet time for creative work. But it's not just inconsistent — it's unpredictable! Meetings canceled or shifted, customer queries taking precedence, trips rearranged or — yes, I live in New England, folks — snow (which has so far this year screwed up more than a few planned events). 

And you know what? I love it. The lack of a regular pace suits my personality just perfectly! I'm guessing that this is not an uncommon trait for sustainability professionals. Am I wrong? Because if you prefer routine, it's hard to imagine that this would be the job for you.

Looking back at "A Day in the Life" in 2009, I see some things that have changed:

  • My team in summer '09 was simply me plus an intern. Now that I have four great people on my team, they've taken on a lot of what was on my to-do list at the time (worry not, there's plenty to keep me busy). In particular, Erin (the aforementioned intern, now program manager) is handling all of the customer and analyst questionnaires — which have only grown in volume — and Mark, who joined in '11, is tracking and reviewing all the metrics.
  • I was looking at vendor proposals for greenhouse gas emissions tracking at the time. We've now had that operational for a few years; it's being totally managed by our EHS group, and we're focusing this year on broader sustainability control systems.
  • I was putting a fair amount of time into the Sustainability Report back in 2009 (though when I wrote the blog, we were in the much anticipated post-publication hiatus), but development and project management came out of marketing. Now it's in my team that owns the project, and this time of year, it pretty much takes over our schedules and goal sheets!
  • The issues that were apparently top of mind included WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) legislation, battery transportation, development of some policies that had not yet been formalized, and setting energy and climate change goals. Now the goals are set and tracking, and the global product operations team has been built out and taken over compliance (along with product take-back, supply chain responsibility, conflict minerals, green packaging and manufacturing, and more). Things on my to-do list at the moment include understanding the application of the Ruggie Principles to the IT industry, analyzing Scope 3 emissions for product-in-use (though our newest teammate, Alyssa, is getting ready to take that on) and emissions avoided from use of our technologies, and exploring models for internal carbon pricing and quantifying long-term shareholder value, figuring out the revenue value of the "Customers Who Care" list (i.e., those who care enough to require us to provide information on our sustainability initiatives). 
  • While I'm still reading a lot, I'm less likely to be reading about corporate sustainability. I've become more inclined to study subjects "around the edges" of corporate sustainability, i.e., books on persuasion and influence, or economics, or governance, or markets, or morality; subjects that inform my thinking rather than just guide my activities.
  • In 2009 I was leading the Design for Environment initiative, but now it's in the very capable hands of a dedicated environmental design architect.
  • We hadn't yet joined Ceres then, nor held our first external Stakeholder Forum with them. We're now about to have our third.

Stepping back to look at the differences, I'd have to say there's been a very definite shift in my activities from the operational to the strategic, and huge progress in moving sustainability into the  business.

And some things haven't changed: 

  • The email deluge: I still send about 100 emails a day, but I'm receiving somewhere in the 300 range. All those lovely newsletters we get? Time permitting, I scan the headlines for something that leaps out, but mostly save them for when I have time. Don't ask how big that folder is …
  • And I rarely, if ever, read blogs anymore. 
  • I'm still presenting; to the board, execs, internal teams and outside groups (especially students, who always inspire and energize me!). I have pretty much given up on PowerPoint, though (when I can get away with it).
  • In 2009 we were providing feedback to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the impending Energy Star for Data Center Storage. We're still doing it and it's still impending.
  • Still involved with The Green Grid (more so, in fact) and DESSC (it earned an extra "S" since 2009).
  • I'm still sponsoring an award at the Innovation Conference, so August will be — for the fifth year running — a time of reviewing submissions from around the world.
  • Still writing, reading, reviewing, mentoring; still meeting with my team, manager and controller.
  • Our cross-functional virtual team, the (soon to be renamed) Green Business Leadership, still thrives!
  • And, as you know, I'm still doing an awful job of keeping up with my blogging.

And without a doubt, the most important things of all have not changed: I'm still working with amazing people, the company is still committed to progress, and I still thoroughly adore my job!

Image by billdayone via Shutterstock