Esaote Evolution, Chief Sustainability Officer, a new position required to implement the transition

Chief Sustainability Officer, a new position required to implement the transition

In recent years, attention to sustainability and corporate social responsibility has intensified all over the world.

In many cases, it has also resulted in contradictions between organizations’ intentions and their actual strategic decisions. At this time, Italy is once again holding its breath, wondering which solutions can be implemented for the future, in order that the coexistence between the human need for freedom and security does not trigger responses to defend nature. With the urgent need to address climate change, the increasing scarcity of natural resources and increasing inequalities, organizations around the world are facing unprecedented challenges. In this context, a professional position is emerging as a catalyst for change within companies: the Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) or Head of Sustainability.

The CSO is a management figure responsible for developing and implementing sustainable strategies within the organization. Their primary responsibility is to ensure that the company acts ethically, reduces environmental impact, and promotes social well-being. In the past, sustainability could once be considered an optional extra, but it has now become a top priority. In the current context, the role of the CSO is even more fundamental. The climate crisis, emerging social inequalities, European policies and the consequent strategic indications of the PNRR are directing organizations towards achieving “sustainable success”, a term introduced by the "Corporate Governance Code" that came into force on January 31st, 2020. It is identified in the ability to create long-term value “for the benefit of shareholders, taking into account the interests of other stakeholders relevant to the company.”

Transparency, fairness, shared progress, and care are the key concepts that must give rise to any relations with people and organizations with an interest within the value chain.

A well-prepared CSO can lead the company through this transition, identifying opportunities for sustainable innovation and improving corporate reputation. A CSO frequently finds themselves working in close collaboration with various company departments to integrate sustainability into all phases of the decision-making process.

Including via their direct contact with the CEO, they also affect a range of stages in the organizational process: from the supply chain and production to marketing and talent management. The standard profile of the CSO involves working with external stakeholders, including governments, non-governmental organizations and local communities, to build partnerships and address common challenges. Beyond the description of this profile in black and white, in everyday business the role of Head of Sustainability falls to people who are already highly specialized and whose intense managerial work would prevent them from fulfilling all the commitments involved. In a more likely scenario, a CSO’s tasks fall to in-house teams where the various specialisms developed over time in the company are integrated: Public Relations, Human Resources management, cost and Research management. Companies’ strategic need to innovate in their production model to face up to the climate change crisis (which is also a social crisis) and reduce their impact is linked to the possibility of prospering in the long term, with economic returns.

Most organizations are introducing this position, and adapting it to the existing organizational balances and to the delicacy of the networks of objectives that lead to the final result. To deal with this complexity, some decide to establish a full-time role, for staff in other managerial positions, or others who attempt to focus and clarify their sustainability strategy externally. Taking this point of view as a starting point, work can be directed towards starting to reduce and regulate the environmental impact of decision-making in manufacturing. A final option is to rotate the role between different people, to expand the shared vision over time.

The responsibilities of the CSO or their team may vary depending on the organization, but usually include:

  • Development and implementation of a long-term sustainability strategy
  • Identification of areas where the organization can improve its sustainability performance
  • Monitoring and reporting of the organization's sustainability performance
  • Collaboration with other departments within the organization to integrate sustainability throughout the business
  • Communication with internal and external stakeholders, such as employees, customers, suppliers, investors and local communities, to provide information on the organization’s sustainability policies and practices, and promote the adoption of sustainable behaviors
  • Research and evaluation of new technologies, materials and processes to improve organization sustainability.

A prerequisite for managers working on sustainability strategies is soft skills, such as effective communication, the ability to inspire motivation for change (leadership), long-term vision, ability to collaborate, but also the capacity for critical data analysis. Flexibility and adaptability in an ever-changing environment to change strategies and plans in real time based on circumstances.

If we wish to identify the origins of this professional position, we can consider certain key moments in the history of the concept of corporate sustainability, when the role of the CSO began to take shape. One such moment was the 1987 publication of the “Our Common Future” report, commonly known as the Brundtland Report after the Chair of the United Nations Commission that led the project. The report defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

This concept laid the foundations for the diffusion of the topic of sustainability and for the evolution of managerial roles in this field. In the 1990s, many companies began to establish internal positions focused on social and environmental responsibility.

However, the role of the CSO as a strategic sustainability figure has only become more prevalent in recent years, in response to pressure from stakeholders, including customers, investors and NGOs, who require companies to make a more substantive commitment in terms of sustainability. Although there has never been a specific time or place when the term “Chief Sustainability Officer” was coined, the role of the CSO has gradually emerged over the past decades.

As part of its commitment to sustainability, Esaote has also decided to introduce the position of CSO, and to construct a dedicated team to support within the organization the transition towards greater sustainability that will define the company’s future. The person assuming this role has also been tasked with monitoring and implementing D&I (Diversity and Inclusion) policies aimed at closing the gender gap and at ensuring that all employees feel valued, respected and supported in their development and professional growth without prejudice in relation to biological gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability or personal characteristics. Two aspects of responsibility to work towards sustainable success, which can only be played out as part of one single position.

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