How To Become a Chief Sustainability Officer

One relatively new green career that has been exploding in popularity in recent years is the Chief Sustainability Officer. Also commonly known by terms such as Director of Sustainability, Chief Officer of Environment, and Director of Social & Environmental Responsibility, the Chief Sustainability Officer is typically an executive level position within a company that is in charge of the company’s environmental and social responsibility efforts.

Over the last few years, the position has evolved in many companies from one focusing mainly on compliance with environmental regulations to one that fosters environmental innovation as well. More and more companies are realizing that going green is not just the right thing to do, it’s also the profitable thing to do! Many Chief Sustainability Officers now take an active role in improving a company’s “triple bottom line” – people, planet, and profits – by introducing environmental policies that save money and resources, developing green products and services, overseeing marketing efforts to avoid “greenwashing,” and more.

Ultimately, the goal of a Chief Sustainability Officer is to incorporate sustainability into the core values and daily operations of a company in a way that inspires executives, employees, and consumers like and catalyzes social and environmental change through ethical and responsible business practices.

A position as Chief Sustainability Officer can be a perfect career for people with a passion for both business and the environment. Successful Chief Sustainability Officers also typically have traits such as effective management and communication skills, a passion for knowledge and learning, and plenty of creativity.

Chief Sustainability Officer Education and Training

Because Chief Sustainability Officer is such a recent position, many current CSOs came to their positions more by accident than design. They may simply have been the first experienced executive or manager with an interest in environmental responsibility that anyone could think of. For example, Robyn Beavers, Google’s first Chief Sustainability Officer, started out as an Executive assistant to Google’s founders before their common interest in sustainability moved them to create a position as CSO for her. As the title become more common, however, it is likely that more and more people will be hired specifically to work on sustainability issues, so having relevant experience and education will become increasingly important.

As an executive level position, very few can expect to become Chief Sustainability Officers early in their careers. However, you can begin preparing for a career as a CSO by pursuing a degree in business or management with a sustainability focus. A growing number of business schools are now offering MBAs with a focus in sustainable business, including the Presidio School of Management, Colorado State University, and the University of Michigan.

As with any business career, networking is an important part of preparing yourself for a position as Chief Sustainability Officer. The professional social network LinkedIn has several groups that allow sustainability executives from all over the world to network and share advice, including the Sustainability Executives NeTwork (SENT) & Chief Sustainability Officers (CSO’s) Group and the Chief Sustainability Officers Network.

With a good education, relevant experience, a solid network of professional contacts, and a passion for green business, you are well on your way to landing a dream job as Chief Sustainability Officer!


Image Credits: minds-eye and dawnzy58

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