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Are sustainability roles unsustainable?

12 January, 2024

Well, maybe. In their current form. An article in the Harvard Business Review identifies a moment of change for Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs), relevant to anyone working in corporate sustainability. Until now companies have been setting targets, communicating them and working towards them. (Relatively) quick wins have been made, and the harder stuff, the expensive stuff and the transformational stuff is what is left.  

This isn’t new news. Last year, we talked a lot about Act 2. Act 1 was an impressive feat of corporate endeavour, taking sustainability from nice-to-have to a more embedded approach, with sustainability strategies and supporting targets. Act 2 is about more substantive change, significant capital expenditure, hard choices, and a rethink of the fundamentals of how an organisation operates.  

What does this mean for the CSO and their colleagues? According to HBR, they need to carve out a fundamental role in business strategy, investment decisions and working across businesses operations. Once upon a time sustainability was seen as antithetical to profit, but now the two can and must go hand in hand. For example, a good CSO should increase resilience of operations to climate change while reducing the extent to which the business contributes to this change. A really good CSO will find ways to create business opportunities from the need for adaptation and mitigation. In other words, use their sustainability knowledge to create smart business decisions and influence others to do so.  

While this feels obvious – there needs to be action behind the commitments made – it is a significant shift for many CSOs. The HBR calls for pragmatic leaders, who deeply understand their business strategy and operations to make decisions combining planet and profit and creating a future-proof business. 

If you’re reading this and wondering how to implement this change within your business, we’re here to help. We have decades of experience in creating human-centred transformational change to create long-term success. If you’re already on top of it, nice work! 

By Anna Heis

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