The rise of Chief Sustainability Officers: a Boardroom revolution?

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Anne-Sophie Blin
EMEA Upstream Sustainability Services

I have just read the recently published Acre Resources paper on the emergence of Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs), whose remit is to work closely with the Board to integrate sustainability fully in to the core business strategy. It strikes me that the job market for sustainability roles is an ever changing one and one that keeps providing creative opportunities and career paths for sustainability professionals at all levels of seniority.

But do we really need full time CSOs to bring sustainability in the Board room or isn’t it more important that all directors on the Board start taking sustainability into account in their business decisions? Are CSOs going to become mainstream in property companies?

Clearly there is an emerging interest from our clients with the most advanced approach to sustainability. It is already impressive to see how quickly the approach to sustainability of those companies that have appointed an in-house Head of Sustainability has matured in the past few years. Indeed these roles have become increasingly senior, moving from an operational remit into a greater strategic oversight.

However, in my opinion, most real estate companies, still very mindful of keeping costs down in the current economic context, will remain cautious in appointing CSOs in the near future. The appointment of a CSO should not be seen as one-size fits-all solution. Indeed, for most, repositioning existing CR Committees as advisory bodies to the Boards and implementing clear accountability mechanisms in all existing Board role specifications may be less expensive approaches. In this respect, it is very encouraging to see many directors in the sector, from Chief Executive Officers to Chief Operating Officers, enrolled in the newly launched UKGBC Leadership Sustainability Training and Education Programme (STEP) aimed at senior individuals in the built environment. This may be the quiet revolution that we need to achieve truly sustainable business models.

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