‘A sense-maker in chief’ – New survey examines the role of Chief Sustainability Officers

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The Chief Sustainability Officer is emerging as a ‘sense-maker in chief’, according to a global survey on the role in addressing the environmental, social and governance (ESG) imperative.

Respondents to the survey, by Institute of International Finance (IIF) and Deloitte UK, also believed that the role will grow in prominence over the next two years as sustainability continues to be ‘a critical priority’ for the industry.

Anna Celner, Global Banking & Capital Markets leader, Deloitte Global, commented on the findings: “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.”

The survey received responses from 80 sustainability professionals and senior executives from more than 70 organizations, including CSOs, chief executive officers and heads of sustainability and ESG, representing asset managers, insurers and banks in Europe, North America, Asia and Emerging Markets.

Axel Weber, IIF Chairman and Chairman of the Board of Directors of UBS Group AG, added:

“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.”

Other findings of the survey included:

  • While fewer than 15% of survey respondents report having a CSO in place, more than 75% report having a similar or equivalent position – Head of Sustainability or Head of ESG were the most common.
  • While the detailed mandates of CSOs are as varied as the firms they work for, the survey identified three core themes to the CSO’s general responsibilities:
    • 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 view CSOs as strategic, influential, and responsible for making the repercussions of ESG concerns tangible for business lines. In pursuit of this, networking, organisational knowledge, and a thorough grounding in the business are viewed as essential attributes.
  • One-third of the survey respondents report to their respective CEOs. The CSOs who say they report directly to their CEOs also say this relationship is the cornerstone of effectiveness in the role.

The full report is available to read on the Institute of International Finance website.