What Does a Sustainability Chief Do?

Leading sustainability efforts for a company can be rewarding — and lucrative. Here's what it takes to become one.

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By Ryan Droste • Dec 21, 2022

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As the world turns and the workplace becomes more environmentally conscious, one growing career field is becoming a corporate sustainability chief, also referred to as a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO).

CSOs are in high demand and can command annual salaries ranging from $150,000 to $200,000, according to Salary.com.

So what does a CSO do, and do you have the qualifications to become one?

Related: Why Companies Need to Think More Strategically About Their Environmental Impact

Job responsibilities

"A Chief Sustainability Officer ensures the company has a strategy around sustainability that meets the needs of the company, its employees, and its customers," says Pamela Fletcher, Senior Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at Delta Airlines. "And then, after that, the CSO activates that strategy and makes sure that progress is happening, that there are proof points with milestone achievements so that this sustainability journey is really happening."

Strategies cover such issues as energy use, resource conservation, recycling, pollution reduction, waste elimination, transportation, education, and building design. CSOs often oversee or supervise employees or volunteers working on sustainability projects.

CSOs also develop budgets, make presentations and recommendations to the company's board of directors, shareholders, and others integral to the operations of the organization, and oversee the finances of all corporate sustainability efforts. They often report directly to the CEO.

A sustainability chief walks a tight line, monitoring the company's environmental impact, while also eyeing productivity and profit.

Ideal skills

The best sustainability chiefs are excellent communicators, creative, and able to think analytically to solve complex problems. They have extensive business and management experience. They should be experts in government regulations, compliance, and best sustainability practices. Finally, they need to be experienced in developing budgets.

Compliance, efficiency, and innovation

When developing a corporate sustainability strategy, CSOs usually engage in three initiatives — compliance, efficiency, and innovation. Sustainability chiefs are integral in each stage.

During the compliance stage, companies examine and audit their current standing and outlook on sustainability efforts, creating projects that better the organization's sustainability footprint, such as recycling or helping the company become greener. Companies will also make sure they are in compliance with local, state, and federal regulations.

In the efficiency stage, companies consider how they save time and money when implementing their sustainability practices. This might involve looking at how to save on energy consumption or water usage.

During the innovation stage, companies look to transform their sustainability strategies for the future. CSOs keep an eye on how they can become more profitable along the way through the use of innovation. Greater societal problems, beyond just the company's own sustainability measures, usually come into focus. Issues such as climate change, water quality, and water management.

Related: These 8 Women Lead Sustainability at Companies Like Amazon

Ryan Droste

Digital Editor

Ryan Droste is a Digital Editor with Entrepreneur and has written for several publications over the years, with bylines at Sports Illustrated, CBS Interactive, The Inquisitr, ComicBook.com, PopCulture.com, Sportskeeda and many others.

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