CSOs – CROs – On the Rise in Corporate America… Which Way is Forward in These Key Titles?

Posted on June 27, 2016 by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist

#Business Case #Corporate Responsibility #Corporate Sustainability #Sustainability Professionals 

Sometimes the “chief” whatever is enduring (as in Chief Financial Officer/CFO) and sometimes the chief position is fleeting (Chief Strategy Officer was the rage in the 1980s).  We are heartened by the relatively rapid rise of the new chieftains in Corporate America – the “CSO” (Chief Sustainability Officer).  The duties and organizing principles for this office are still being worked out.
Does the CSO report up to the C-Suite (to CEO)?  Do they have access to board room?  Are they somewhere “down below,” like the fellows in the steamship boiler room who keep the big boat moving but are not on the bridge with the officers in white suits.  Are they in the middle – reporting up to the CEO but through another “chief.” (Direct report to CFO is often the line up for some CSOs.)
We’ve seen cases where the sustainability team is headed by the CEO in some structure, and the CSO is the critical influence in the team setting, alongside the CEO.  European models are different from the U.S. corporate structure.  The CEO is less king and more first among slightly-lesser-equals (at least in influence).
There is a trend in place (and has been for about a decade) with large public companies and some mid-caps and small-caps appointing the CSO.  The position is a connection point for a growing range of collaborators (internal and external).  Subject matter experts (SMEs) and content owners inside don’t report to the CSO but do feed data, narrative, background information on an informal and formal basis (this is especially important for the company’s sustainability reporting).
Where are we in this evolving business trend (appointing CSOs)?  Our story this week is from CR (Corporate Responsibility) Magazine – “The Growing Influence of the CSO,” by author Susan Hunt Stevens (CEO of WeSpire, an employee engagement platform for companies).  It’s a nice perspective on the origination and growth of the CSO function.
One aspect of all of this that we at G&A Institute monitor is the parallel development, the appointment of Chief Corporate Responsibility Officers (CROs).  What are the duties of the CSO and CRO… differences… similarities… paths forward (and upwards on the corporate ladder)?  Why do some companies title efforts “sustainability” and others, “responsibility” and even “citizenship” (like GE and American Airlines)?  Will these come closer together and merge?  Will there be separate job descriptions and expectations (of the “chiefs” by the top echelon “chiefs”)?  Stay Tuned!
The Growing Influence Of The Chief Sustainability Officer
(Thursday – June 16, 2016)
Source: CR Magazine – the country’s first chief sustainability officer (CSO) was appointed in 2004. Since then, the position has rapidly evolved as companies, employees, investors, and partners continue to recognize the value of sustainability and…