Consider this: Will the CSR/Sustainability Manager's role evolve in the future, in much the same way that the IT’s manager did some years ago?
Remember some 10-15 years ago when the role of the IT manager started to change gradually? At the time, the IT department was mostly seen as a cost factor, set up in a separate entity (i.e. not integrated with business processes), with the task to ensure that IT hardware and software are running smoothly, at the lowest possible cost.
Since then, the IT manager has changed title to 'Chief Information Officer' (CIO), has come out of the back office, and has evolved to a true business partner and integral part of the C-suite. Today, the CEO looks to the CIO to drive innovation, future business models, and revenue growth for the organization - deploying technologies and mastering digital change across all business units and processes. This year's pandemic has further strengthened this development: In the COVID-19 crisis, IT proved its efficiency and further improved the CIO and his teams' reputation within the company.
Would you have thought at the time that the role of IT manager will change so significantly? - Probably not. Similarly, it is hard to imagine today that a CSR/Sustainability Manager will evolve to an equally important role. But is that so far-fetched?
As companies engage in more efforts around sustainability, the CSR (or Sustainability) Manager's role is to champion and monitor these efforts. Today, this is a back-office or marketing-related role, typically involving communication on (often still 'cosmetic') CSR initiatives and working on some improvements, e.g. for carbon-reduction targets or workforce diversity efforts. Several companies have created a 'Chief Sustainability Officer' (CSO) position – DuPont as early as 2004 – mainly to ensure fulfilment of compliance requirements and to look at possible cost efficiencies while incorporating greater sustainability efforts, such as financial savings through a move to renewable energy.
The CSO role will be crucial, as that of co-decision-maker and co-designer, regarding the company's future viability.
But as trends on climate and biodiversity are increasingly alarming, and the social divide is growing even more rapidly since the pandemic started, the pressure is rising for companies to assume greater responsibility for people and the planet: the realization grows increasingly rapidly, that humankind needs companies that develop and offer solutions and technologies for the preservation of its living space and for fair and peaceful cohabitation.
Consequently, products and services offered to customers will need to reflect genuine and holistic sustainability commitments. This will involve comprehensive innovation efforts as companies start to redesign existing products, services, management, and engagement methodologies in addition to expanding or completely revamping their offerings.
For this reason, it is not at all far-fetched to expect that over the following years, organizations will be driven into a fundamental transition where sustainability becomes the core value and source of strategic advantage and competitiveness. Here, the CSO role will be crucial as that of co-decision-maker and co-designer regarding the company's future viability.
Companies are advised to start preparing for this fundamental transition today - oh, and yes: the CIO will remain an important ally!
What's your thinking? Do you agree? Your feedback and opinion is much valued...
Dr. Katharina (Katja) Grimme is a seasoned ICT industry analyst and consultant experienced in research and advisory for top-level executives in large organizations on technology developments, competitive strategies, market positioning, and go-to-market initiatives. Her passion for ethical, sustainable and socially just concepts for business, society and digitalization has prompted her to now deploy her knowledge and experience to help drive change towards a social-ecological transformation.