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New senior roles will take CSR closer to the board

July 2010

Many companies will soon create a high-level post of chief sustainability officer to take the corporate responsibility agenda forward.

Sector observers and recruitment specialists say the new job function is already emerging in the US, and will grow in popularity worldwide during the next three years as firms seek to take their sustainability activities to the next level.

Chief sustainability officers, or CSOs, will typically sit above CSR directors and managers, and will have influence comparable to - but not necessarily as far-reaching - as that wielded by chief financial officers.

Businesses already employing them include the engineering and construction company Aecom, the software specialist CA, Dow Chemicals, and the global law firm Nixon Peabody.

The trend was highlighted at a London seminar on 2 July, where  the sustainability executive recruitment consultancy Acre, analyst firm Verdantix and the professional services group Ernst & Young all reported increasing evidence that CSOs - or jobs with similar titles - will become the norm in the next few years.

Rufus Bullough, an associate at Acre, which operates internationally in London and Chicago, said the growth of the role would show that companies are moving into an 'opportunity or future proofing' phase in which sustainability progresses into the arena of the 'C-suite' - the group of officers with the word chief in their titles and with direct access to the board.

'The CSO role is cutting-edge territory and is still being shaped and defined,' Bullough told EP. 'Most firms still suffer from a management gap or governance deficit that's stopping truly strategic decision-making on sustainability, and this is where the CSO comes in.

'It's the link that is lacking between the board and functional heads of departments such as environment, health and safety, corporate affairs, HR and in some cases the CSR director.'

Acre and Verdantix believe most of the hires will initially be internal appointments, and that CSR managers should 'position themselves for this opportunity'.

However, David Metcalfe, chief executive of Verdantix, warned that although 'some could make the leap', CSR professionals 'are not necessarily first in line to be appointed as the CSO'.

The ideal candidate will be someone with broad business knowledge and change management experience 'who acts according to commercial criteria rather than as an evangelist for sustainability'.

Metcalfe said the new posts are being developed as part of a growing acknowledgment that sustainability needs a hard-hitting champion at the most senior levels in a company.  Key responsibilities will be to develop sustainable business strategy, 'implement a company-wide change programme', and explore the revenue generation opportunities that CSR offers.




Acre Resources | Global | CSR

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