Sustainability Executive Positions on the Rise

Not too long ago it was unusual to find a company with a CSR executive, so it’s been encouraging to see that the number of senior level sustainability professionals (Director, VP or above) seems to be increasing. During my research I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing several, including Alison Taylor, Siemens VP Sustainability – Americas, James Farrar, VP of Sustainability for SAP, Bill Frerking, VP & Chief Sustainability Officer for Georgia Pacific, and Harriet Hentges, VP,Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability for supermarket giant Ahold USA.

In serving on the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Environmental Policy and Sustainability Committee, I notice a number of members in senior sustainability, environmental or CSR roles from organizations such as The Home Depot, Delta Air Lines, Emory University, Interface Americas, Georgia Power Company, Newell Rubbermaid, The Coca-Cola Company, AGL Resources and more. An increase in the number of senior level positions is an indicator that sustainability is being increasingly viewed as an important element of corporate strategy.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) recruiter Ellen Weinreb who studies CSR job posting and level trends revealed that one of the findings of her March 2010 biennial CSR Jobs Report is the increase in senior-level CSR roles at the VP and Director level. Weinreb’s research prior to 2006 didn’t show any VP or above CSR job postings. She mentions this statement from Dave Stangis, Vice President of CSR and Sustainability at Campbell’s Soup, who says: “The emergence of the VP of CSR and VP of Sustainability titles seems proof of the growing strategic business position of CSR.”

While a number of positions were found with the “Chief Sustainability Officer” (CSO) title, many are “Chief” in title only. For example an article cited by Weinreb titled Meet Google’s Chief Sustainability Officer described some great green initiatives underway at Google. However, the actual title for this passionate 26-year-old with a civil engineering background was Corporate Environmental Programs Manager.

Weinreb believes that beyond being the most senior CSR role in a company, to be in “C” suite also means to make critical strategic decisions with the senior-most leaders of the company and to be listed on the company’s 10-K SEC filing along with other senior executives such as the CEO, COO and CFO.

Weinreb mentioned two executives she found listed in corporate 10-K reports as David Clary from Albermarle Corporation and Frank O’Brien-Bernini from Owens Corning, both with the VP & CSO titles. Other executives mentioned such as Linda Fisher, VP DuPont Safety, Health & Environment and CSO for DuPont, and David Kepler, EVP, Business Services, CSO and CIO for Dow had responsibility for other areas.

Weinreb’s report quotes Frank O’Brien-Bernini, CSO of Owens Corning who says: “The emergence of the CSO title is indicative of the growing trend of sustainability as a core business strategy. Sustainability is most effective when its execution is embedded throughout the organization, however, like all “Chief” roles, it’s critical that there is a distinct accountability for functional excellence…and that a high, wide and deep sustainability perspective is integral to the executive leadership team where key decisions are made and strategic direction is set.”

If sustainability is one of the greatest business opportunities of our time, and a critical driver for innovation, then it reasons that the number of senior level sustainability positions will continue to grow, and more will reach the “C” suite.

Sources:
CSR Jobs Report, Sustainability Recruiting by Ellen Weinreb, CEO of Sustainability Recruiting URL: http://www.ellenweinreb.com/Guidance.html

GreenBiz.com (http://www.greenbiz.com)
http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2010/04/01/search-elusive-chief-sustainabil...

Meet Google’s Chief Sustainability Officer by Bob Keefe http://www.divinecaroline.com/22277/44799-meet-google-s-chief-sustainabi...

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