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Chief sustainability officer roles set to rise, Deloitte finds

According to the Deloitte UK and the IIF, the CSO is emerging as a ‘sense-maker in chief’ in addressing environmental, social and governance imperatives

Deloitte UK and the Institute of International Finance (IIF) have found that the role of chief sustainability officer (CSO) is set to grow in prominence over the next two years, as sustainability continues to be a “critical priority” for the industry.

According to the groups, the CSO is emerging as a “sense-maker in chief” in addressing environmental, social and governance imperatives, and is responsible for understanding and predicting changes in the external sustainability environment, as well as re-positioning the business model of their respective firms to “tackle this head on”. 

The findings come from a global survey based on responses from 80 sustainability professionals and senior executives from more than 70 organizations, including CSOs, chief executive officers (CEOs), chief risk officers (CROs), as well as heads of sustainability, ESG and strategy.

The survey found that while fewer than 15% of respondents reported having a CSO in place, more than 75% report having a similar or equivalent position, with head of Sustainability or head of ESG being the most common.

While the detailed mandates of CSOs are varied, the survey identified three core themes to the CSO’s general responsibilities: To make sense of the external environment and bring insights back into the firm; help the organization reconfigure its strategy; provide thought leadership and help align teams by engaging, educating and connecting.

Respondents viewed CSOs as “strategic, influential, and responsible” for making the repercussions of ESG concerns “tangible” for business lines. In pursuit of this, networking, organizational knowledge, and a “thorough grounding” in the business were viewed as essential attributes to the role.

Anna Celner, Global Banking and Capital Markets leader, Deloitte Global, said: “Addressing our climate crisis requires collective action, and businesses worldwide must be drivers in this effort.

“CSOs focused on measurable, decisive action can help make this a reality, and the more empowered we can make them, the more impact we will see across all areas of an organization. The future of our people, planet, and professions depend on it.”

Axel Weber, IIF chairman and chairman off the board of directors at UBS Group AG, said: “Financial service firms can play a critical role in helping transition the world to a low-carbon economy through sustainable finance as well as driving their own evolution. 

“I am pleased that this IIF and Deloitte report provides insight into the role a Chief Sustainability Officer can play in helping drive efforts forward. One thing is clear: These are whole firm efforts, they need a strong and strategic mandate, and each firm must find its own approach that works for its structure and culture.”

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