Dynamic changes and the constant need to adapt to new realities have become the norm. In today’s economy, there is no such thing as certainty and stability. A company that doesn’t keep up with the pace of change can very easily fall out of circulation, and just because it’s in the top ranking today doesn’t at all mean it will stay there for a long time. This complexity of change can overwhelm. That’s why more and more companies are recognizing the need to have a person in their structure who is responsible for sustainability and making sure they keep up with changing regulations and requirements. This position is called Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO), Director of Sustainability, or Sustainability Manager.
The role of CSO in a company – table of contents
- Learn more about the job
- Where do Sustainability Directors work?
- When should a company hire a CSO?
- What are the tasks of the sustainability director?
- What personal skills should the CSO candidate have?
Learn more about the job
The CSO monitors what impact the company has on the environment, but also analyzes how the changing environment may affect the company. That role also involves, in part, anticipating future trends and the ability to plan for the long term. While such work is based primarily on knowledge of environmental legal requirements, the position is also intended to benefit the company in purely economic terms. Companies that follow trends realize it is necessary to constantly monitor ongoing changes and react quickly to them to maintain profitability.
The Sustainability Managers are responsible not only for macro operations but also for what happens inside the company. Hence, they may develop plans to reduce the number of resources such as water or electricity, as well as create recycling plans and look for ways to make better use of waste.
The activities of CSOs and the list of tasks in a given position depend on the company itself, but also on the sector in which the company operates. Still, environmental activities are no longer just a matter of good corporate image but a necessity that also brings tangible financial benefits.
Where do Sustainability Directors work?
Until recently, such a position did not exist, and it is now believed that shortly these people will play a key role in the pursuit of ESG goals. Seeing the direction in which our society as well as the economy as a whole is heading, one can guess that this is a very developing direction, and specialists in this field will continue to be in demand.
Larger organizations have a separate CSO position within their structure, which handles day-to-day activities for the company. The same is true for various types of government agencies or non-profit organizations. Smaller companies that also recognize the need to work with an environmental sustainability specialist most often use outsourcing and hire a specialist for a specific project or task. This is why many CSOs are self-employed while running their businesses.
Regardless of what form the Chief Sustainability Officer appears in the company, his position or role cannot be treated as a separate entity. Communication and cooperation with all departments, as well as access to complete company information, are necessary to create an overall strategy.
When should a company hire a CSO?
Even though many people talk about the benefits of hiring a chief sustainability officer, there are still many companies that believe that creating such a position or working with a specialist in this field, is completely unnecessary. One of the main arguments that are made is that the company performs these tasks anyway, and they are simply distributed among other team members. Is this approach correct? Is it the case that the creation of a separate position is an unnecessary procedure, and the tasks of the CSO can be performed by people from individual departments?
This approach mostly works well in small enterprises, where top-down coordination is not needed, and individual tasks can be performed by employees of the departments concerned. A signal that indicates that it is necessary to hire a coordinator in the form of a CSO is the inability of the organization to adapt to ongoing changes. An experienced person who has a great understanding and knowledge of the regulations, as well as the ability to foresee the direction of upcoming changes will certainly better define the goals and help carry out the necessary transformation. Hiring a CSO may also be necessary when an organization has no experience in environmental topics but wishes to follow the needs of today’s world.
What are the tasks of the sustainability director?
Coordinator is an ideal term that accurately describes the main task of a sustainability director. It doesn’t concern directing or managing others but stems from the need for top-down management of all development activities undertaken in the company. Each department undertakes activities in its way and within its scope, and the CSO makes sure to bundle everything into a coherent whole.
The director of sustainability is also tasked with creating strategies and educating colleagues in this regard. A large part of his duties also involves research and analysis of available data, as well as keeping abreast of upcoming changes and policy trends.
Reviewing the various job postings for the position of CSO, which include descriptions of requirements, we can conclude that the scope of responsibilities depends on the organization in question. However, the core activities should be: analyzing data, implementing changes and monitoring results.
What personal skills should the CSO candidate have?
Working as a Sustainability Director is certainly not for everyone. In addition to previous experience and extensive knowledge, specific skills, and character traits are needed. Below we will discuss a few of them, which will certainly make it easier to cope with daily duties.
Communication and management skills
A CSO is a person who has quite a lot of freedom in his work and does not report directly to a superior. This, of course, has its pros and cons. Working in this position, you must be able to manage your time and organize your duties accordingly. In the case of larger corporations, the sustainability director often also manages the people below him. In this case, human resource management skills and the ability to delegate responsibilities to others will also come in handy. CSOs typically deal with multiple projects simultaneously, as these are long-term tasks. So the ability to divide work appropriately and high-level organizational skills are necessary.
The Sustainability Director is a fairly independent position, at the same time, it is frequently necessary to interact with the other members of the team, as well as other people with whom cooperation is undertaken. Thus, adequate communication skills and the ability to convey information in such a way that it can be understood by everyone are essential. Here we come across another trait that comes in handy in this position, namely the ability to adapt. A CSO comes into contact with a variety of people and organizations during his work, and it is necessary to talk to each of them a little differently. A different form of communication will be required with government officials and a completely different one with a client.
If we wanted to simplify the role of the CSO in an organization and give one most important duties that can be considered its main task, it would certainly be to look for methods to introduce sustainable activities into the daily operation of the organization. This is essential both in terms of image, but also economically. Mere knowledge of the company as well as the laws or policies here is not enough. A creative approach is needed to put it all together cleverly. This is the quality that is essential for this position.
A constant desire to learn
We have witnessed how knowledge of the need to protect the environment has grown tremendously in recent years. This is why new regulations and laws are constantly being introduced, which in part forced major organizations to adapt to level the effects of human activity on the state of our planet. CSOs should stay abreast of these regulations, be able to read the various provisions, and keep up to date with current related developments. In today’s economy, changes occur dynamically. Only by keeping up to date with the subject regularly is it possible to implement changes in advance and adapt to future requirements. This allows the company to reorganize its work in peace and prepare accordingly.
The issue of sustainability has firmly settled into our everyday life and is becoming more and more relevant. It is no longer just a fad or a prevailing temporary trend. It is our new reality, here to stay. Many experts believe that the topics of social responsibility and sustainability will become even more crucial over time. This is already noticed by many companies that implement these issues in their strategies or plan to do so shortly.
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