The 2020s are the decade we must deliver sustainable action before it is too late. And every Chief Sustainability Officer is asking themselves, “what can we do so that my organization will stand on the right side of history?”
The good news is that sustainability is firmly on the C-suite agenda. The rise of the CSO is heralding an end to the era of Heads of Sustainability fighting to make the business case for sustainability to the executive team.
Our 2022 CEO Purpose Report found that 30% of CEOs believe the key role of purpose is to guide sustainability activities.
Today the questions to answer are, “what problems are we uniquely placed to solve? How bold should our ambition be? Where does our responsibility end? What is enough and – most critically – how fast do we need to act?”
Sustainability is a complex and holistic business issue that cannot be tackled as a siloed business vertical. Companies that wish to be relevant for tomorrow need to define bold purpose statements that commit to shaping a sustainable future. This mandate will empower CSOs to hardwire sustainability into business DNA.
Climate change, the build-up to COP27, the conflict in Ukraine, extreme weather events, the aftermath of Covid-19, Black Lives Matter – all of these are changing the dominant narrative. One of the most promising findings of our CEO Purpose Report is that in the face of ongoing crises and continued volatility, we are seeing businesses showcase a greater commitment to purpose and positive impact.
What does this mean for CSOs?
Business must think beyond incremental change and minimizing its negative impact on society and environment. Doing so will require new thinking and bold action.
Here are suggestions for how CSOs can engage across their business ecosystem and drive systemic change:
Be bold in your ambition as a steward for future generations. You need to set the tone from the top and ensure your purpose is aligned to your sustainability strategy. With greenwashing on the rise, CSOs have to anchor the business’s vision in strategy and action – building trust with transparent targets and credible roadmaps.
Purpose has the power to engage and inspire individuals in organizations. Sustainability needs to be everyone’s responsibility and purpose. When done right, it is a uniting and galvanizing force. CSOs need to give agency by empowering teams and creating inclusive opportunities for everyone to deliver positive impact.
Advocate for the future you want to help shape. Business is a powerful engine for growth. Understandably, lobbying strategies are met with scepticism and mistrust. Instead, we need CSOs to utilize their organization’s expertise and voice to support policy and regulation needed to accelerate sustainable action.
Aim for radical collaboration, not competition. No business can solve sustainability challenges alone. CSOs are uniquely placed to be convenors and collaborators united by a higher purpose of achieving sustainable progress. They need to help business leaders shift from aiming to be the best in the world to best for the world and to seek to collaborate with competitors to implement solutions at scale.
Harness the power of your supply chain. Looking at your direct business operations is not enough. We are seeing a growing shift on scope 3 emissions and impact, a shift which is putting a new spotlight on B2B business. Forward thinking businesses go beyond negative screening, using their resources to build capacity in their supply chain, cascade their purpose and ambition and create communities of problem solvers working towards a shared goal.
Paint a picture of the future worth living up to. Sustainability can be overwhelming and eco-anxiety is on the rise. We need to accept the science and the reality of today. But above all, we need to be inspired for the role we can create in shaping a sustainable future and provide clear pathways for how to get there. A clear role for business to influence this future is through creating sustainable products and services, offering responsible choice architecture for consumers and by creating compelling campaigns that raise awareness and inspire action.
Coming out of the pandemic, we are seeing businesses accelerate their efforts to deliver long-term value (73%), ESG (72%), and company purpose (62%).
You can read the original article on Brandpie’s website here.