Thursday, 14 April 2011

The CSO: sustainability’s new breed of top dog

I recently put a call into Raffaello Raimondi. In an ideal world, it’d be him phoning me. Or you. A top headhunter at recruitment specialists Allen and York, he has the job of picking out the next big things in corporate sustainability.

We’re not talking the typical ‘CSR’ function here. The last ten years have seen a troop of hard-working, well-meaning folk fill the tiers of middle management. And welcome, they are. These are corporate responsibility’s in-field commandos: managers that grapple with the guidance notes for GRI's version G3.1 and crack heads to get a community involvement project off the ground. All this in the hope of making their companies more responsible.

No, Raimondi’s focus is further up the chain of command. An increasing number of corporate clients are asking him to find someone for the C-Suite. His successful candidates have a daunting job spec: shift their corporations onto a sustainable footing. That’s no small task. “Top to bottom change”, is how Raimondi describes it. Hence the leadership team post. ‘Chief Sustainability Officers’ or CSOs (as they are increasingly being called) have the boardroom clout to get things done. Or so the theory (and their handsome salaries) runs.

So who are the high fliers in Raimondi’s rollerdex? Few, you may be surprised to know, have the term ‘sustainability’ in their current job titles. Time in the ‘CSR’ trenches is not a prerequisite for today’s CSOs. Think instead: exceptional management skills (the soft bit), hands-on industry experience (the technical bit) and a ‘big picture’ view of corporate strategy (the brains bit). So would the typical CV look like? Here’s Raimondi’s tick list:

* A decade or so running process-driven operations in a large company – that’s a given.
* A respectable MBA - ditto.
* A stint with a strategic or environmental consultancy - preferable, though not essential.
* Oh, and evidence of a passion for matters sustainable.

Got all those and it might just be worth waiting by your phone for the call to come.

For more on the skill set, background and job spec of the emerging role of Chief Sustainability Officer, read the Strategy & Management feature article in Ethical Corporation’s latest issue.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Oliver,
    Good area – the CSO role gets right to the crux of how to integrate Sustainability in core strategies, and whilst there are some strong protagonists there are plenty who feel that this isn’t the best solution for their company. Many people we speak to seem to feel that a Sustainability Board that reports into the main Board can be a better solution. For those who want further info, Acre have published a detailed report on “The Emergence of the Chief Sustainability Office” (, and this is the topic for Green Monday on the 9th May – “To CSO or not to CSO, that is the question” (