Leadership Roles in Sustainability
The emergence of three letters has thrust an organisation’s collective response to sustainability issues under the microscope: ESG (environmental, social, and governance). This isn’t another hollow corporate acronym; it’s a robust set of standards measuring a business's impact on society and the environment, and how transparent and accountable it is.
With the pressure to satisfy ESG concerns being applied by ethically engaged stakeholders on both sides of the organisational divide (employees, customers, investors, and regulators), businesses can’t afford to shove them down the corporate agenda for marketing or PR teams to deal with – a reactive approach that exposes them to regulatory fines and reputational damage. They need to set the tone at the top of the organisation by understanding internal and external stakeholders’ ESG expectations and establishing a strategy that achieves them.
The onus is on those in associated leadership roles to balance remaining competitive and driving innovation with increasing action to ensure sustainability.
Amid demand to achieve ESG maturity, boards are increasing their focus on all things ethical in a bid to make their organisation more resilient, agile, and sustainable for the long term. It’s up to them to ensure the business strategy embeds relevant sustainability issues and that the necessary structure and processes are in place to implement it. Without their backing, sustainability programmes will remain box-ticking exercises that fail to have a positive impact on the business, its people, and the environment.
The board is responsible for:
- Incorporating relevant sustainability and ESG issues into governance, strategy, decision-making, risk management, and reporting.
- Understanding and aligning sustainability and ESG priorities with organisational goals.
- Identifying and monitoring defined targets and metrics that measure the organisation’s performance from a sustainability perspective.
- Supporting the delivery of high-quality reporting that tracks sustainability, identifies risks, and monitors performance – allowing all stakeholders to understand sustainability goals. Reporting helps to organically foster a culture of sustainability that matures holistically.
Chief Sustainability Officer
The creation of chief sustainability officer (CSO) roles has increased in recent years in response to several factors: a societal demand to put people and the planet ahead of profits; a recognition in the business world that proactive sustainability management requires representation at the top table; and an understanding that a reactive approach to sustainability could result in financial penalties and reputational damage for an organisation.
It’s the CSOs job to strike a balance between the organisation’s environmental impact and achieving its goals through the continued development of a robust sustainability strategy that informs its decision-making processes.
A CSOs skillset and responsibilities are linked to strategy, change management, and making the repercussions of ESG concerns tangible for the workforce. They communicate and partner with internal and external stakeholders to both understand their concerns from an ESG perspective and raise awareness of how the organisation is managing its impact on society and the environment. This allows them to cut through the organisational complexity and influence the delivery of the business’s ESG commitments. When they’re not engaging with stakeholders, they’re analysing changes in the external sustainability environment and assessing the strategic consequences for the business.
Responsible for the day-to-day management of an organisation’s sustainability programmes, the sustainability manager ensures relevant messages are communicated throughout the organisation. This facilitates a holistic approach to sustainability that’s driven from the top down and implemented from the bottom up – establishing long-term value creation. Their strong communication skills also allow them to collaborate with other stakeholders within the business to implement processes and technologies that will enhance its management of ESG issues.
They also manage the research and analysis needed to develop corporate sustainability strategies that ensure business practices, products and services are environmentally sustainable and compliant with regulations.