What does a chief sustainability officer do?

By Fodhla O'Connell-Grennell

Recently, Prince Charles called on major businesses to appoint chief sustainability officers (CSOs) while at the first meeting of the newly launched S30 group. The Prince of Wales, who has historically campaigned for environmental movements, stresses the importance of CSOs in all businesses.

This role appoints a corporate title of an executive position, charged with managing the company’s environmental programs. As businesses are beginning to engage more with environmental and sustainable issues, the CSO role has been created to monitor, evaluate and champion their efforts at curbing their environmental impacts.

Although the CSO must manage factors, such as, water consumption, energy use and so on, they are also tasked with creating adequate safety procedures, assessing the working conditions in their supply chain and evaluating their products which particularly address environmental problems.

In the paper, Chief Sustainability Officers: Who Are They and What Do They Do?, the authors found that companies are usually engaged with sustainability at one of three of the following levels:


This is the point at which a company first engages with sustainability. Although a formal CSO position has not been appointed at this level, a leader in the company will advocate for increased commitment to the company’s sustainable efforts. The position will usually be led by someone who has previously engaged in sustainability-related projects and employees will have the option to join a ‘green team’.


At this stage, companies will become more strategic about their role in sustainability. They will see the positive outcomes of stopping their water waste or energy bills. There will most likely be a CSO who works with the CEO of a company to reduce and monitor their environmental impacts.


This stage is more advanced, which only a select amount of companies engage at. At this level, the business transforms with sustainability at the core. The shift of the management of sustainability from the CEO to the CSO happens, and the CSO must draw up a sustainability strategy for the company. The business will evaluate major issues in society, such as climate change, while also incorporating social issues, such as obesity too. Overall, very few companies have reached this level, but for the environment, it is the most idealistic stage to be at.

The paper asserts: “The CSO is the ambassador with the vision, the person who decides what needs to change when it comes to how the company is interacting with the communities and the broader societal context in which it operates." The role of CSO is, therefore, an important, transformational role and companies should consider this appointment in order for their company to excel in environmental-sustaining business.