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Within the last twenty years, corporations have begun to make the environment a priority while producing goods or providing services. A sustainability officer (often referred to as a CSO, or chief sustainability officer) is someone who will analyze and predict a company or institution's future outlook, present stability, and environmental impact. The sustainability officer sets policy, goals and objectives to assure that the corporation maintains and even exceeds productivity and profitability, and meets or exceeds environmental policy.
The sustainability officer is responsible for providing an ongoing evaluation of the company's profits, personnel, ecological outlook, and other factors that affect company performance. He or she reports directly to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), or an executive management team. The position of the sustainability officer is to have direct contact with most, if not all, of the personnel involved in the production process. The job requires a person who is dedicated to reducing the company's carbon footprint, in and above compliance to environmental regulations set by the government. The position is multi-faceted and provides the opportunity to be involved at almost every level of production.
Although often connected with environmental issues such as water and energy use, a growing number of companies are taking sustainability efforts much further by improving working conditions in their supply chain, creating better safety procedures, and reaping profits from products that address environmental and social problems.
Companies are often engaged in sustainability at one of three stages:
Compliance: In this initial phase, companies often start with activities related to complying with regulations. In addition to compliance, employees may volunteer to work on recycling projects or green teams. Most companies at this stage have not created a formal CSO position.
Efficiency: In this phase, companies become more strategic about sustainability by finding ways to achieve efficiencies that will save corporate dollars, such as cutting energy and water use or reducing waste generation and carbon emissions. At this stage, more companies are likely to hire or appoint an official corporate sustainability officer, who works with the CEO.
Innovation: This is a more advanced innovative stage, where companies integrate sustainability into the core of the business in ways that transform the company. Strategies tend to be driven by the market with an eye on maximizing long-term profitability, and sustainability efforts often look to address bigger problems in society, including climate change, water management, and obesity.
A sustainability officer's workplace is throughout the entire company. Personnel are interviewed while qualitative and quantitative data are gathered in order to provide 'white papers' or reports to the CEO or executive team members. Reports are generated every quarter or three months. During those times that the sustainability officer is not gathering data, he or she usually has a private office suite in which to study relevant data and compile reports.
This role is relatively new; current sustainability officers typically have a master's degree in business administration and seek certification in sustainability in order to advance to this position. A person planning to become a sustainability officer would do well to complete an MBA and certification concurrently. Two to five years experience in a supervisory role in business, with increased responsibility, are valuable gateways to becoming a sustainability officer.