Measuring CSOs

October 16, 2012

I recently returned to my business school alma mater’s (Vanderbilt) library to do some old-fashioned, i.e. non-Googling, research.  I delved into some dense databases in search of the answer to the question -- how many Chief Sustainability Officers (CSO) are there in the US?

I thought there would be a lot, given the great increase in sustainability initiatives and the deluge of sustainability messaging I have witnessed in the past eleven years of working in this area of business.  But there isn’t. I found only 37.  And of these 37, only 12 hold the specific title of CSO.  The other 25 are some hybrid position like “Chief Marketing Officer & Chief Sustainability Officer”

What does this mean?  It means many things, but, first and foremost, it means sustainability has a long way to go.  The famous adage of management guru Peter Drucker goes: “what gets measured gets managed”.  I’d counter with “what gets managed gets measured”. 

If there are only 37 CSOs, and only 12 of them only focus on sustainability, that means sustainablity is most often some Director or VP’s add-on responsibility.  Or it is housed under Public Relations. Or it is out-sourced.  If there is no defined role in a company to manage sustainability, then what is getting measured?  Likely, energy use, various emissions, water use and other environmental metrics.  But those were likely always measured.  And what about social impact metrics? Governance metrics?  Product responsibility metrics?  Sustainable supply chain metrics? End of life metrics? etc etc.

Another recent research project I conducted of twelve top sustainability indices (e.g. Dow Jones Sustainability Index), rankings (e.g. Newsweek Green Rankings), and reporting protocols (e.g. Global Reporting Initiative) yielded 434 sustainability metrics included in their collection of metrics required.  How does a company fully prepare for 434 metrics if there is no executive in charge of managing the measurement?

Sustainability is now widely espoused by CEOs as a core competancy and a key driver of business value -- akin to, say, Marketing.  I wonder how many Chief Marketing Officers (CMO) there are in the US?  Probably more than 12...or 37. 

By my measure, we still have a long way to go.




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