Defining the Role of a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO): Insights for Hiring Managers

As businesses face increasing pressure to address their environmental and societal impact, many are turning to the role of a CSO to navigate these challenges. However, the role of a CSO can be complex and challenging to define. In this article, we'll explore the key responsibilities of a CSO, the challenges they face, and the core skills and traits hiring managers should look for when seeking a qualified candidate.

Navigating the Key Responsibilities of a Chief Sustainability Officer

A CSO's primary role is to identify sustainability opportunities and drive change, integrating it into the organization's business strategy. Responsibilities include developing and implementing sustainability strategies, monitoring ESG performance, overseeing sustainability projects, managing stakeholder relationships, fostering a sustainability culture, and establishing partnerships and effective communication.

To achieve these responsibilities, a CSO must possess skills such as sustainability comprehension, strategic thinking, and stakeholder management. They must collaborate with executive teams to develop sustainability strategies aligned with business objectives, monitor ESG performance, manage cross-functional teams, engage with internal stakeholders, and create awareness programs on sustainability. Prioritizing these areas and building a sustainable culture drives organizations towards a more sustainable future.

Overcoming Challenges in Defining and Fulfilling the Role of CSOs

Defining a CSO's responsibilities can be challenging due to ambiguity in job titles and reporting lines. The role may have different titles and report to various departments in different organizations, creating confusion about specific responsibilities and required core skills.

To overcome these challenges, establish clear expectations and performance metrics. This includes clarifying the CSO's reporting line, title, and responsibilities within the organizational structure. A standardized definition of the CSO role, outlining specific core skills and duties, can also be developed. CSOs must work closely with other departments to integrate sustainability into the organization's overall strategy.

8 Essential Responsibilities of the CSO Role

Here are eight essential responsibilities of a CSO to help responsible companies recruit and hire top talent:

  1. Environmental stewardship: Implement sustainable practices like energy efficiency, waste reduction, and renewable energy.

  2. Social responsibility: Promote diversity, equity, inclusion, support local communities, and ensure fair labor practices.

  3. Supply chain management: Work with suppliers to meet sustainability standards and promote sustainable practices.

  4. Stakeholder engagement: Engage with stakeholders to consider their views and build support for sustainability initiatives.

  5. Corporate governance: Incorporate sustainability into corporate governance structures.

  6. Reporting and transparency: Track and communicate sustainability performance to stakeholders.

  7. Risk management: Identify and manage sustainability risks, such as climate change, regulatory changes, and reputational risks.

  8. Innovation and collaboration: Foster innovation and collaboration for new sustainable solutions and technologies.

By prioritizing these responsibilities, a CSO can effectively lead sustainability initiatives and drive positive outcomes for the organization.


A CSO is essential for organizations striving to make a positive impact in today's environmentally-conscious world. However, defining the role and ensuring success can be challenging. Establish clear expectations for your CSO by using the eight core responsibility areas as a foundation. Check out our enlightening article, 'There’s a new title in the C-suite - is the Chief ESG Officer here to stay?', highlighting the growing importance of sustainability and ESG factors in business decision-making.

According to a McKinsey Global Survey, 57% of executives say that sustainability activities contribute positively to their companies' short- and long-term value. By prioritizing sustainability and hiring qualified CSOs, businesses can drive positive change, reduce their environmental impact, and improve their reputation and bottom line. Heron Talent provides expert guidance and recruitment services to help organizations find the ideal CSO for a sustainable future.

Contact us today to find the perfect CSO for your organization and take the first step towards a brighter, greener future!