Key Aspects to Consider While Hiring a Chief Sustainability Officer

Hiring the best talent in a competitive and ever-evolving talent market is becoming increasingly competitive as top talent will no longer settle just for remuneration. They also consider aspects such as diversity, work culture, and most importantly the commitment of a company towards environmental and social responsibility. 

According to a study, 46% of top talent would prefer to work only for an organization with environmentally sustainable business practices. And 76% of people expect companies to lead the way that counters climate change. This also creates an impact on the employer brand thereby becoming a deciding factor for talents to choose to work with you. Therefore, organizations get into a race to work towards improving and monitoring their sustainability plans with the help of a sustainability expert. 

In this article, we will be discussing the role and responsibilities of a chief sustainability officer and the skills employers and recruiters to look for while planning to hire a chief sustainability officer. 

Who is the Chief Sustainability Officer? 

The role and responsibility of a chief sustainability officer (CSO) involves ensuring and monitoring whether the organization’s business process and practices are environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable. They primarily carry out the planning and execution of the company’s sustainability strategy which involves improving the organization’s impact on the environmental, social, and economical aspects. 

What does a chief sustainability officer do? 

  • Identifying areas for sustainability improvement by evaluating a company's current strategies and processes. 
  • Creating documents such as proposals for grants regarding several environmental projects. 
  • Conducting research on the latest trends, practices and news related to sustainability. 
  • Educating employees on the most common environmental challenges and suggesting methods and protocols to practice day-to-day activities in a sustainable way by means of recycling and minimizing their energy consumption. 
  • Keeping track of an organization's data related to environmental initiatives and analyzing the existing data to arrive at a conclusion based on the metrics. 
  • Preparing proposals, budgets, and reports regarding sustainability for review by the chief executive officer, board directors and company stakeholders. 

Important skills to look for in a CSO

1. Professional Communication

Communication is the key requirement to perform as a sustainability professional and lead the organization’s sustainability strategy. CSOs are expected to communicate with other employees within the organization as well as with professionals outside their organization, such as government officials, investors, and clients. 

Here communication by means of a variety of modes and mediums such as verbal and written are mandatory. The candidate is expected to perform email communication, writing formal proposals for grants, documentation, and writing reports, and conducting educational as well as outreach programs.  

Irrespective of whether the communication is verbal or written, a CSO is expected to make the points valid, concise, and clear. At the same time, it is important to keep the complex scientific and technical points simplified while sticking to a professional tone. 

2. Staying well informed regarding environmental issues 

It is important for a candidate who is looking forward to building a career in organizational sustainability to stay well informed regarding environmental issues, policies, news and stay updated regarding the same. Though holding a degree or a formal course in environmental science need not be mandatory, a formal degree with a bachelor’s or master’s degree with continued interest in learning and working for the betterment of the environment is preferred. 

Moreover, sustainability, environmental sciences, and related subjects are constantly evolving fields, pertaining to changes in protocol, rules, regulations, and practices a CSO is expected to remain informed on the latest environmental trends so that they can determine the best strategies to help their business practice sustainability. 

3. Policy engagement and interpretation 

Hiring a sustainability officer for managerial positions demands experienced or professionals. Here the candidate is expected to be trained to read, interpret, and implement policies regarding environmental regulations. The primary responsibilities of a CSO are to make sure that their organizations’ processes are ecofriendly and complies with government regulations for issues such as the noise generation, waste recycling and sewage disposal, radiation emitted, water management system, chemical processing, gas emission, and other related practices.  

In short, a CSO becomes an environmental advocate for the organization. Sustainability officers with experience and expertise might also become policymakers, give expert advice to government, and organize events or campaigns that help improve environmental regulations. 

4. Innovative and critical thinking 

The primary responsibility of a CSO is to devise innovative plans to incorporate sustainability into a business's regular process-flow. Here it is important to determine ways to reduce an organization's environmental impact while still not compromising on the quality of the services or products, while keeping customers satisfied and not compromising on the profit. For example, a CSO has to determine ways to minimize their company's energy usage while maintaining or even decreasing operational costs. 

In addition to that, critical thinking helps evaluate and improve a company's existing sustainability practices as well as devise new plans. It is important to incorporate sustainability into business operations, finances, and developments. Candidates are expected to be familiar with a variety of strategic tools and methods such as SWOT analysis, fitness tests, etc., to help them create or improve sustainability practices within their organization. 

5. Organizational and management skills 

CSOs are expected to manage different resources and projects at the same time. For example, a CSO may need to handle a waste recycling program, read and research on the latest studies on pollution, write new proposals, and help employees implement conservation strategies all within a given deadline. Further, the role also demands managerial qualities and leadership skills to coordinate the efforts of all departments to bring forth sustainability as an overall outcome. 

Common challenges encountered while hiring a CSO

The first challenge is that several startups and growing organizations feel that having a CSO might seem like trying to walk while you have still not perfected how to crawl. For such cases, you can accommodate your existing employees to cover the mandatory compliance aspects and regulations as per the government norms.  

The second common challenge is attracting the right candidates with relevant experience and skills who can handle the organization’s sustainability goals. Here it is important to promote the fact that you devote time and resources to highlight compliance factors through your company website and social media posts. Moreover, this can be effectively accommodated in your employer and organizational branding program. Leading organizations while hiring also rely on head-hunting agencies and recruiters who are experts in hiring sustainability professionals. 

Final Takeaways 

Depending on the requirements and the size of the organization the functionalities of a CSO might vary. Some companies might need to hire an executive focused entirely on sustainability. For instance, large companies have a Chief Strategy Officer or Head of Strategy who is bound to become a sustainability strategy leader. 

Regardless of whether you dedicate an exclusive position or assign an existing employee to take care of the sustainability aspects it is necessary to train and align their skills with their organization’s overall sustainability goal. Organizations can offer training programs and courses related to sustainability and cover the most recent challenges. This will not just help your existing employees and the program participants learn about sustainability but also attract fresh talent in this field. 

Fill in this form by populating the Template Name field with “Sustainability Officer” to receive search terms and keywords along with a go-to guide to source sustainability professionals and to gain access to MyRCloud’s Recruitment Repository. 

Signing off:

Vidhya V,

6 October 2022

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