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The rise of the Chief Sustainability Officer

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Sustainability leadership is at a turning point. The systemic nature of climate change is clear to see and with it the realisation that the global economy faces an existential threat. The shift to net zero is accelerating, with an emphasis on a just transition that delivers a more resilient and prosperous future. The role and purpose of business in society also is evolving at pace.

Customers, investors, and employees are demanding that companies play a more active role in progressing social change and provide a sustainable and values-oriented market system. One that looks beyond profit alone.

20 years. By 2014, 90 of the S&P 500 companies had a CSO, and numbers have grown steadily from there. Through our interviews and research, we certainly see sustainability leaders increasingly operating at C-suite level. To provide credible and trusted guidance, these CSOs are able to talk the language of business, effectively manage and persuade stakeholders, and show acumen outside the ‘sustainability bubble’.

In this paper, we outline Korn Ferry’s Executive Success Profile for the CSO – a perspective of the capabilities and attributes organisations will need to seek in their future CSO. And we discuss ways to make change happen, capitalising on the momentum within organisations and economies around the world.

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