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How empowered is your CSO?

In today’s ESG-driven environment, more companies than ever have a chief sustainability officer; fewer have given the position a mandate for real change.

The Leadership Agenda

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Share of chief sustainability officers by sector

Empowered CSO
Light CSO
No CSO
Consumer products
5%
46%
50%
Oil and gas
12%
46%
42%
Automotive
17%
56%
28%
Entertainment and media
38%
35%
26%
E-commerce platforms
9%
77%
14%

Chief sustainability officers are certainly benefitting from the rising urgency surrounding ESG. But their influence may be limited. A recent study of 1,640 companies conducted by Strategy&, PwC’s consulting business, found that around 80% of those companies had some kind of CSO role. But only 30% had a formal CSO. The remaining 50% had a CSO with a limited mandate—what we call a “light CSO”—based on the nature of their role or their overall standing in the corporate hierarchy, with the companies in the light-CSO group reporting that their officers are two or more hierarchy levels below the C-suite. Companies in the consumer goods and products sector boasted the most formal CSO roles—perhaps not surprising given the high-level media and social media focus on sustainability issues in the food and apparel sectors, to name just two.

Today sustainability teams, led by the CSO, are typically pushing the rest of the business to become more sustainable. But as things advance, and ESG starts to influence every part of business, other parts of the organisation will gain their own sustainability expertise. While not a “silver bullet,” there’s a strong correlation between having a CSO and making progress on environmental issues. As part of our study, we reviewed the ESG ratings given to 1,455 companies by the market-data firm Refinitiv; of the companies getting an A rating, 98% had an executive who’s responsible for sustainability.

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Contact us

Dr. Peter Gassmann

Dr. Peter Gassmann

Partner, Managing Director Strategy& Europe, PwC Germany

Tel: +49 69 97167-470

Robert Bischof

Robert Bischof

Partner, PwC Strategy& (Germany) GmbH

Tel: +49 89 5452-5557

Emma Cox

Emma Cox

Global Climate Leader, Partner, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7973 317011

Aurelien Vincent

Aurelien Vincent

Partner, Strategy& Middle East

Dr. Yahya Anouti

Dr. Yahya Anouti

Partner & ESG Leader, Strategy& Middle East

Jeroen Crijns

Jeroen Crijns

Partner, PwC Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)65 156 64 70

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