The emerging contours of the new world of work in the Fourth Industrial Revolution are rapidly becoming a lived reality for millions of workers and companies around the world. Hundreds of new jobs appear and hundreds are lost every day. Following “The Future of Jobs Report 2018”, only “about half of today’s core jobs will remain stable in the period up to 2022”. New trends strongly affect business leaders’ decision environments and shape the future nature of jobs. In one sentence, transformation is real.
Is the Chief Sustainability Officer about to become the most crucial member of the C-suite guiding a transition toward a new economic reality?
Let’s be clear, this role is not new, but the fact that it has seen a sharp risen in prominence in the last 5 years, makes it evident that corporations are taking this global transformation seriously. More than that, corporate sustainability seems no longer to be in the domain of generalists, marketing experts or individuals entering the twilight years of their career. Now, it’s striking at the strategic and operational core of some of the most well-regarded global companies. Chief executives and founders, such as Virgin Group’s Richard Branson and Procter & Gamble CEO David Taylor, are proactively championing sustainability and the number of top firms investing in senior C-suite level leaders who can drive the formulation and execution of a corporate sustainability strategy increase. Major players such as Diageo, P&G, Mastercard, Nissan, Ralph Lauren, Tyson Foods and others have all created this new position within their C-suites in 3 last years. That being said, the increase in demand for CSOs reflects a significant evolution in corporate thinking on sustainability. Sustainability is now incorporated into two-thirds of companies’ core missions of “being a good citizen”, representing at the same time over half of the world’s institutional assets.
Who was the first one to see the Graal?
The first known CSO appointments were at DuPont and Nike, in 2004. Yes, it was 15 years ago and we have the champion locally! DuPont has a long history of developing sustainable solutions for a remarkable number of industries. This company is a global sustainability pioneer. It was among the first companies in the United States to appoint a Chief Sustainability Officer in 2004 (Mrs Linda Fisher), to sign the United Nations (UN) Global Compact and to engage proactively on climate-related frameworks and policies. Since then, the number of companies appointing a CSO for the very first time has risen dramatically.
What does it mean and what does it take to succeed as a Chief Sustainability Officer?
Typically, a CSO has a title and seniority on a par with C-level finance, operational, and technical heads and reports directly to the CEO. First, on an individual level, CSO needs to have the ability to quickly and clearly perceive global megatrends and the organisation’s position in light of this megatrend. “Will your company be positively relevant to the world in the next five, ten years and beyond? That’s a question a CSO must constantly ask. Solid business acumen – both strategic and operational are a must-have paired with “the ability to work across functions and business units in a cohesive, collaborative and inspiring fashion, to ignite a desire to achieve change.” explains Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability Officer at global luxury giant Kering and one of France’s most celebrated champions for sustainable development. Lucas Joppa, Chief Environmental Officer at Microsoft, believes that his “science background, versus a more corporate background” contributed immensely.
According to Daveu, in terms of qualifications and skillset, the function is becoming increasingly professionalised. At an internal or intra-company level, both buy-in and attention from top management, the CEO and Board, is vital. “The corporate sustainability function must maintain KPIs that are measurable and demonstrable and these results must be made visible to the Executive Committee, Board and C-suite,” adds Daveu. She also goes further, believing that in a world beset with unprecedented environmental and social challenges, the CSO’s deep know-how actual makes him or her the ideal CEO. Traditionally, being the CFO or Chief of Strategy was seen as a gateway to being a CEO,” says Daveu, adding “but as more investors see sustainability as a necessary strategy for both survival and differentiation, the CSO is advantageously placed to serve as a company’s CEO and guide its transition toward a new economic reality, where competitiveness and sustainability are inseparable.”
Krysta Harden, Vice President of Public Policy and Chief Sustainability Officer from DuPont de Nemours states that “she has been amazed at what a window into the transformations happening in our world this position affords to her. Every day she has conversations with leaders both in and outside of the company making those transformations happen”.
The role has also progressed today from simply “being housed within CSR,” to satisfy a regulatory or reputational requirement, and is now contributing to product innovation and works closely with R&D. A successful CSO “has to be a visionary thinker, a creative problem-solver, an operational implementer and collaborative leader”. Given how intersectional and cross-functional the CSO’s role is, his or her ability to succeed on the rapidly-evolving sustainability front hinges on several individual and internal factors.
Sustainability – innovation - Luxembourg
Is there any link between innovation and sustainability? Well, it seems to be very close, according to Kering, a pioneer in the future of sustainable fashion and ranked second in the composite Global 100 Index. Their sustainability mission is driven by Chairman François-Henri Pinault’s ethos that “luxury and sustainability are one and the same”. “It’s not simply an ethical necessity,” says Daveu, “although that is important in and of itself, but we see sustainability as a driver of innovation, creativity and value creation.” Innovation and value creation, isn’t it the core of our local strategy ? Building on recent successes in the area of sustainable finance, a roadmap was drafted. Today, Luxembourg ranks 2nd when it comes to Green Finance penetration, after the UK which gives our country a major role in sustainable development and European and international climate initiatives. More than that, according to Eric Usher, Head of UNEP FI “Luxembourg is setting the course for sustainable finance to fulfil its critical role in achieving sustainable development. Sustainability is increasingly a performance driver, a trillions dollar investment opportunity that needs to be at the heart of the business strategies of banks, insurers and investors”. But where are Chief Sustainable Officers? Have we ever thought about hiring them to drive all important transformation projects in our country? While having a look on local jobs offers, there are some demands for sustainable finance professionals within BIG 4, sustainability professionals with Ferrero or Amazon. Those environments seem to be up to date. But where are others? Are we ready, aware, to really welcome Chief Sustainable Officers locally? Odgers Berndtson run around 30 searches for this position last year. I have to admit, sadly, that not one was done in Luxembourg... And I have never heard our local colleagues speaking about those jobs… and we are one of European champions in innovation and sustainable finance... According to Chr. Hansen’s Meisling, “we are just beginning to see companies stepping up on the journey”. What about making Luxembourg a champion and a role model?