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Increasing influence: 66% of new Chief Sustainability Officers report to CEO

A growing number of organisations are appointing a Chief Sustainability Officer and these new CSOs are not reporting to marketing...
Melodie Michel
Increasing influence: 66% of new Chief Sustainability Officers report to CEO
Image credit: https://unsplash.com/@getrodeo

More than 66% of the Chief Sustainability Officers appointed in Q4 2023 report to their company’s CEO or President, according to data collected by CSO Futures.

The data, augmented by qualitative interviews, suggests that the role of the CSO continues to gain influence and is becoming a more established part of the C-Suite, with the attendant responsibilities of regular board reporting, delivering change and communicating complex issues to various executive stakeholders. 

Two of the new CSOs whose appointments were tracked by CSO Futures report to their Chief Financial Officer and one reports to the Chief Operating Officer. The remaining four companies did not respond to our inquiry on line of management. 

Despite the admittedly small sample size of 21 (this was just new appointments: we tracked more than one per week in Q4), it is telling that none of the 21 new hires report to the Chief Marketing Officer or belong to the marketing or communications department; a “traditional” silo for this emerging role. 

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This coincides with qualitative information gathered by this publication when interviewing CSOs: most of the sustainability leaders we have spoken to report either to their CEO, CFO or COO, have growing teams – and all hold budget.

Companies look for sustainability expertise externally

New CSO appointments were evenly distributed between 10 women and 11 men. The ratio of internal promotions vs external hires was balanced at 11 to 10 – though there were some interesting differences in their professional backgrounds.

Chief Sustainability Officers chosen in-house rarely came from a sustainability background. Instead, their previous position was primarily in communication (27%), operations (18%), strategy or innovation (18%) and human resources (18%). 

Full list of new CSOs

Here is the full list of new Chief Sustainability Officers and equivalent appointed in Q4 2023:

Only one of 11 CSOs appointed internally was previously working in sustainability, and another in technology. The wide majority (80%) of external hires came from another sustainability role however, our analysis showed – including 40% that were already CSO at another company.

This suggests that firms approach Chief Sustainability Officer recruitment in two ways: some prefer to appoint a company veteran, recognising that deep company knowledge is helpful for sustainability buy-in, while others prioritise senior sustainability management experience.

Most new CSOs located in the US and Europe

Seven of CSOs named last quarter were announced as their company’s first, while eight had a predecessor. Another six companies did not disclose whether this is their first Chief Sustainability Officer. Some 38% of new CSOs are based in the US, 33% in the European Union and 19% in the UK.

Only two new CSOs are not based in the US or Europe, with one working in India and the other in Indonesia – though it’s important to note that CSO Futures’ data collection is limited by language considerations.

We welcome your input to help us improve the quality of our data reporting: reach out with any missed CSO appointments or comments to melodie@csofutures.com.

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