Here’s The Rub: 100 CSOs Explain the Core Issue

Most chief sustainability officers (CSOs) or equivalent report two levels down from the CEO – as learned from our recent poll of about 90 CSOs at a joint meeting of the three Conference Board executive councils that I run.

About these ~75 companies: they represent a wide cross-section of about 20 industry sectors. Many of the companies are among the largest and best known in the world Examples include: 3M, Alcoa, BASF, Bayer, Boeing, Cargill, Caterpillar, Chevron, Cisco, Colgate-Palmolive, Dell, DuPont, Ecolab, FedEx, GE, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly-Clark, Lockheed Martin, Marriott, Merck, Michelin, Shell, UPS, Walmart, Walt Disney, Waste Management, Wells Fargo, and Xerox.

Here are other key findings from the polling:

  • Roughly half of the CSOs / VPs EHS meet with the CEO for at least 30 minutes only 1-3 times each year. Only one in five meet with the CEO at least quarterly.
  • A quarter of these CSOs never report directly to their board of directors. About a third of them report to their board once a year; 20 percent of them report twice a year; and another 20 percent report three or more times a year.
  • In two-thirds of the companies, board oversight of sustainability falls to one of the traditional board committees (e.g., Audit, Governance, etc.). Just over a quarter of the companies have a board committee predominantly (>50%) focused on sustainability / ESG.
  • The board committee typically spends only 2-4 hours each year on sustainability / EHS issues. That was the case in 75 percent of the companies. However, 10 percent said the board committee spends 4-8 hours each year; and another 10 percent said the board committee spends more than 16 hours each year.

The bottom line: about 90 CSOs (February 2016) indicated they have precious little air time with the C-suite and the Board; yet, their jobs demand greater direct contact with these groups.