What is a Chief Sustainability Officer?

What is a Chief Sustainability Officer?

Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) help organizations ensure that their business practices are economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. Sustainability professionals develop, manage and oversee a company’s sustainability strategy and are responsible for improving the environmental, social and economic impacts of the organization.

CSOs work with company management, employees, customers, stakeholders and shareholders to minimize the company’s impact on the environment. In recent years, CSOs have grown in prominence in the C-suite of large enterprises, with companies such as Cargill, Diageo, Emerson, P&G, Mastercard, Tyson Foods, Citigroup, General Motors and International Paper all appointing people to this post.

What does a Chief Sustainability Officer do?

The role of a CSO varies by organization. Typically, this position is responsible for implementing or managing a company’s sustainability strategy. CSOs communicate and coordinate with management, shareholders, customers and employees to address sustainability issues.

For example, Pilar Cruz, director of sustainability at global agriculture company Cargill, oversees the company’s sustainability, corporate responsibility and global communications functions.

Meanwhile, Mike Train, senior vice president and chief sustainability officer of Emerson, an industrial technology and software provider, leads the company’s sustainability strategy. According to a company press release, “He will focus on advancing technology and advocacy to improve business operations and enable improvements for customers through Emerson solutions and partnerships.”

Professional responsibilities

Depending on the size and type of organization, a CSO’s job description may include some or all of these responsibilities:

Develop and execute strategies to address energy consumption, resource conservation, recycling, pollution reduction, waste disposal, transportation, education, and building design. Create and maintain budgets and schedules for sustainability programs. Develop methods to assess the feasibility or success of sustainability initiatives and evaluate the effectiveness of sustainability programs. Evaluate and approve sustainability project proposals considering factors such as cost effectiveness, technical feasibility and integration with other initiatives. Develop project proposals, sustainability reports, grant applications, presentations and marketing campaigns. Manage employees working on sustainability projects. Direct the objectives and operations of the sustainability program to ensure compliance with local, state, federal and environmental laws and internal policies and regulations.


In its 2020 State of the Profession report, media and events company GreenBiz notes that there is a wide range of compensation for sustainability leaders, with annual salaries ranging from $50,000 to $280,000. $. For directors, the range was even wider, from $72,000 to $1 million, while vice presidents reported up to $1.2 million in total compensation.

  • Glassdoor, meanwhile, reports that CSOs earn an average of $68,456 a year, though salaries range from $31,000 to $153,000.
  • Education, training and certification Requirements for the baccalaureate
  • CSOs must have at least a bachelor’s degree in business administration, environmental science, engineering, or social science.

University degree requirements

Many professionals have a master’s degree in a related field. However, entry level positions do not require a college degree. Thirty-seven percent of vice presidents, 40% of directors, and 32% of managers with an advanced degree hold a master’s degree in business administration.


The International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) provides training tools and services for members to obtain the Sustainability Excellence Associate (SEA) certification, which is intended for professionals new to the field and is a prerequisite for certification as that Sustainability Excellence Professional (SEP) is .

Skills and competences

According to Greenbiz’s The State of the Profession 2020 report, these are the skills .

  • Circular Economy Presentation SkillsCreative Problem SolvingCorporate SustainabilityEHS (Environment, Health and Safety)Data AnalysisReportingEnvironmental Monitoring

How to become a sustainability manager

There are many career paths that can lead to the position of CSO. Professionals come from a variety of backgrounds, including business, science, environmental studies, engineering, and communications.

Here is an overview of what you need:

University degree: For a professional activity in the field of sustainability you need at least a bachelor’s degree. For managerial positions, a master’s degree in a related field is preferred. Experience: If you don’t have relevant work experience, college projects, internships, and volunteering are good ways to add creative resume experience to your credentials. Certification: Certification options for sustainability professionals, vary subject) include the ISSP and the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEM).

Find a Job: In addition to the best job boards (search using terms like “sustainability” and your location), use job boards that focus on green and eco-friendly jobs, including environmental career opportunities, GreenBiz and Idealist jobs.

work environment and schedule

Sustainability managers typically work in an office environment. Positions may involve long hours and frequent travel.

employment prospects

Career prospects for sustainability professionals are good as companies continue to focus on environmental, social and governance reporting, climate change issues and employee and customer demand for sustainability.

In fact, a Deloitte Climate Check survey found that over 80% of business leaders are concerned about climate change and nearly 25% of companies plan to accelerate their environmental sustainability efforts over the next year.

The sustainability dynamic is reflected in other findings of the GreenBiz State of the Profession Report. According to the study, there was a 10 percent growth in job postings on LinkedIn for positions with sustainability-related titles in 2019, which GreenBiz said was ahead of the overall growth of all posted jobs. And in 2020, 58% of large organizations have increased their sustainability workforce in the past two years, and the average team size has grown steadily since 2010.


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