Understanding the role of Chief Sustainability Officers today

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The role of Chief Sustainability Officers has changed rapidly and evolved dramatically in the last few years. New regulations, challenges and stakeholders are some of the reasons for the CSO role we know today.

For too long, the role of Chief Sustainability Officers was reduced to PR strategies that could tell a compelling story about a company’s sustainability efforts, with its main goal being to avoid reputational risks. 

Today, luckily, we know reputational risks are far from being the primary concern (or risk) for companies when dealing with sustainability issues. 

With a clear focus on business strategy and a growing set of goals that go from environmental risks to social disruption, CSOs have a lot in their hands. Let’s dig in.


Parting ways with the past

Lucky for the planet, and for companies themselves, Chief Sustainability Officers are parting ways with the past and their role based upon merely building a sustainable facade for the organization. And there are two main reasons for this.

On the one hand, investors have been key actors in pressuring companies into adopting ESG initiatives and strategies, and recognizing sustainability as an important factor for a companies’ financial performance. 

On the other hand, the rise of public debate between those who deny the need for sustainable action and those who think not enough is being done, has pushed companies to adopt a more internal and direct communication with stakeholders, rather than following a public communication strategy.

Engage employees in the sustainability strategy

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It is these two factors that lead us to understand the role of CSO’s today a little better regarding their responsibilities in making sustainability a company strategy, and being in direct contact with the right stakeholders. 

CSO and company strategy

The role of a CSO derives from what used to be a small group of CSR experts, which, not that long ago, was very much inclined towards philanthropic causes like employee volunteer programs or corporate recycling programs. 

But CSOs today have taken a more critical and strategic role, understanding sustainability as part of the company strategy and the business model. 

Chief Sustainability Officers are also responsible for evaluating ESG risks; as we said before, investors and their demands are a big reason why companies changed their sustainability soft ways and turned them into action. 

the 'S' in ESG

In this regard, risk evaluation and identifying ESG trade-offs is a central role for CSOs. And as non-financial reports keep on improving and more regulatory tools are at hand, the role of CSOs will continue to gain much needed nuance. 

CSO and stakeholder engagement

We cannot talk about identifying risks and trade-offs without having stakeholders in mind. This is another one of any CSO’s central roles, stakeholder communication and engagement. 

However, contrary to past strategies where stakeholder pressure was taken and transformed into farfetched sustainability void and vague promises, this time around, CSOs are more focused on who they communicate with. 

As explained in the Harvard Business Review, CSOs must shift their focus from merely appeasing stakeholders to actively engaging with investors in order to explain how sustainability contributes to value creation. Doing so will bring more clarity on how to measure, frame, and treat sustainability initiatives.

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It is important to acknowledge that no CSO can effectively engage with all stakeholders, neither forget about them. It is a matter or priorities and understanding that we cannot put the same intensity in response for every single actor involved. 

Engagement is key, but it must be strategic, it cannot go back to the PR roots that led nowhere before. 

Employee engagement and sustainability

In DoGood we believe that working collectively can help us find that which alone may seem unattainable or useless and instead create a collective and individual eagerness to make a difference, both for the sustainability and purpose of the company and a more sustainable way of being for all employees. 

Through our technology we help companies establish ESG impact objectives for employees in regards to the sustainability strategy of the company, activating and tracking employees’ impact, and creating engagement that translates into improved ESG metrics, reputational value and an overall positive impact for the environment and society.

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