Most Chief Sustainability Officers Close to the Top, Report Finds

by | Sep 27, 2011

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Nine out of ten CSOs are one or two steps removed from the CEO, according to a report by executive search and consulting firm Weinreb Group.

Weinreb says the report, CSO Back Story, is the first to chart the evolution of the position by surveying every exec with that title among the country’s publicly traded companies. The group found 29 such execs, after searching SEC filings, LinkedIn and other sources.

More are being appointed each year. Linda Fisher was the first CSO, appointed in 2004 at DuPont. Next to follow was Ed Fox at APS Pinnacle West in 2006. Kellogg’s CSO Diane Holdorf is the first CSO to succeed another CSO, Celeste Clarke, who is set to retire later this year.

Other companies with CSOs include UPS, EMC, AT&T, SAP, PG&E and Coca-Cola. A complete list is above. Weinreb notes that it has included Georgia-Pacific even though the firm is not currently publicly traded. The company was public for much of its history.

Ten out of the 29 CSOs (35%) report directly to the CEO and 16 (55%) are no more than two degrees removed, reporting to another C-level executive such as the COO or CMO. Of those surveyed, 12 sit on an executive committee responsible for all corporate strategic decisions, not just sustainability.

With an average of 4.2 direct reports, these CSOs have few resources but often enjoy a growing team, the report said. They all have their own budget but not necessarily their own P&L.

Weinreb said the emerging role is powerful in scope, strategic oversight, and overall management, with CSOs helping to lead their organizations through economic upheaval, internal discord, and environmental ruin. These professionals are good at leading new initiatives and cross-functional teams, and understand how to translate external factors into internal opportunities, the report said.

CSOs have been at their companies for an average of 16 years before gaining their title, and 25 out of the 29 were selected internally. Most chief sustainability officers do not have an environmental background, the survey found.

There were only four MBAs among the group, plus five JDs, three graduates of public policy, and seven science graduates. Three hold PhDs, and nine do not have any graduate degrees.

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