My blog on the role of the CSO published on Economist Impact’s Sustainability Project

I had the pleasure to moderate an engaging session on the role of the CSO at Economist Impact’s Sustainability Week: Countdown to COP28 in London.

It was a great opportunity to assess the extent to which CSOs and other business leaders can deliver transformative, purpose-led change in the face of an ever more volatile and uncertain operating context. This is a huge challenge, but one that the organisation I work for, Forum for the Future, is very familiar with.

The session brought together three CSOs (or equivalent): Peter Bragg, sustainability and government-affairs director at Canon EMEA; Andrew Boyd, chief sustainability officer at Perfetti Van Melle; and Fiona Morgan, chief purpose officer at SailGP. Topics included the sustainability function (or functions) within organisations; collaboration across the whole organisation; the role of the modern CSO; and the evolving CSO.

My key takeaways are below:

• The modern CSO role requires a double focus on empowerment: ensuring direct influence over key business functions and decision-makers, including a direct line to the CEO (own empowerment), as well as enabling key functions across the business to embed sustainability.

• Natural cross-function work is required. For this to work, embedding sustainability in company-wide culture is critical. Both top-down and bottom-up communication is  important between the C-suite, the “sustainability team” and functional teams.

• Growing reporting requirements, for example through the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD)—which requires all large companies and listed small to medium enterprises to publish regular reports on their environmental and social-impact activities—will drive more cross-business collaboration on sustainability.

• Challenges include building ownership, knowledge and understanding, accountability and capacity across functions.

• There is a growing focus on purpose and impact beyond the sustainability function. CSOs bring together diverse parts of the business that can really drive transformational change in the purpose of business. It is this courage to transform that will make or break the future CSO.

Read my blog on Economist Impact’s Sustainability Project.

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