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How Many Companies Have Chief Sustainability Officers?

November 5, 2023 by Joe Panettieri

A growing number of companies employ chief sustainability officers (CSOs), but the majority of businesses still don't have a dedicated CSO in place, according to research from Boyden, an executive search firm.

Among the Boyden Global Executive Survey 2023 findings:

  • 17% of respondents have a chief sustainability officer;
  • 23% have a dedicated sustainability lead;
  • 20% have no designated sustainability lead; and
  • 46% have sustainability led by a board or executive committee.

By sector, the strongest believers in sustainability are private equity with 46%. Also of note: Professional services (30%) and industrial (27%) respondents see sustainability opportunities as a top three driver of growth, the survey found.

Meanwhile, businesses appear highly interested in sustainability talent. Indeed, the top three areas where organizations need to strengthen their executive talent, the survey found, are in:

  • Digital (robotics, AI, machine learning), according to 41% of respondents
  • Innovation, 40%; and
  • Sustainability; 33%.

Chief Sustainability Officers: Gaining Momentum, But Compliance Will Drive More Demand

Boyden's conclusion? Sustainability is gaining more attention in the board room. But it's concerning that most companies still don't have a dedicated chief sustainability officer in place -- especially as corporate compliance mandates across the globe intensify.

Among the areas to watch:

  • California's SB 253 law requires large companies doing business in state to disclose emissions tied to operations and supply chains, The Wall Street Journal notes, but small businesses could also get swept up by the law.
  • SEC climate disclosure regulations were expected to surface in October 2023 but haven't quite arrived as of early November 2024. The SEC effort faces political hurdles on multiple fronts. Indeed, the agency is expected to face litigation over the proposed regulations following significant pushback from business interests, Republicans and some Democrats over its plans, Bloomberg law reported. Moreover, the pending rules could face constitution challenges, according to Donald J. Kochan, professor of law and the executive director of the Law & Economics Center at George Mason University‚Äôs Antonin Scalia Law School
  • The European Union CSRD (Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive) will extend to more and more companies as that directive extends its reach to smaller and smaller companies -- many of which may not be located in Europe.

Amid all of those regulatory moves, the need for dedicated chief sustainability officers -- who work with technology partners and CIOs -- continues to grow.

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