The Institute of International Finance (IIF) and Deloitte UK published findings of a global survey of sustainability professionals and other senior executives about the role of Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) in addressing the environmental, social and governance (ESG) imperative.

“Financial service firms can play a critical role in helping transition the world to a low-carbon economy through sustainable finance as well as driving their own evolution. I am pleased that this IIF and Deloitte report provides insight into the role a Chief Sustainability Officer can play in helping drive efforts forward,” Axel Weber, IIF Chairman and Chairman of the Board of Directors of UBS Group AG, said. “One thing is clear: These are whole firm efforts, they need a strong and strategic mandate, and each firm must find its own approach that works for its structure and culture.”

The survey found that the CSO is emerging as a “sense-maker in chief,” and is responsible for understanding, and predicting, changes in the external sustainability environment, and re-positioning the business model of their respective firms to tackle this head on. Nearly all survey respondents believe the role of the CSO will grow in prominence over the next two years as sustainability continues to be a critical priority for the industry.

“Addressing our climate crisis requires collective action, and businesses worldwide must be drivers in this effort,” said Anna Celner, Global Banking & Capital Markets leader, Deloitte Global. “CSOs focused on measurable, decisive action can help make this a reality, and the more empowered we can make them, the more impact we will see across all areas of an organization. The future of our people, planet, and professions depend on it.”

Other key findings from the report:

  • While fewer than 15% of survey respondents report having a CSO in place, more than 75%  report having a similar or equivalent position – Head of Sustainability or Head of ESG were the most common.
  • While the detailed mandates of CSOs are as varied as the firms they work for, the survey identified three core themes to the CSO’s general responsibilities:
  1. Make sense of the external environment and bring insights back into the firm;
  2. Help the organization reconfigure its strategy;
  3. Provide thought leadership and help align teams by engaging, educating and connecting
  • Respondents view CSOs as strategic, influential, and responsible for making the repercussions of ESG concerns tangible for business lines. In pursuit of this, networking, organizational knowledge, and a thorough grounding in the business are viewed as essential attributes.
  • One-third of the survey respondents report to their respective CEOs. The CSOs who say they report directly to their CEOs also say this relationship is the cornerstone of effectiveness in the role.

The findings of this report are based on survey responses from 80 sustainability professionals and senior executives from more than 70 organizations, including CSOs, chief executive officers (CEOs), chief risk officers (CROs), as well as heads of sustainability, ESG and strategy. Respondents represented asset managers, insurers and banks in Europe, North America, Asia and Emerging Markets.

Download the report (pdf)

Go to the special theme page for Sustainability/CSR Professionals on this portal (Dutch)