More CSOs are Hired to Keep up with UK Boardroom Demands

20 May 2022 by Rufus Bullough
blog author

An influx of Chief Sustainability Officers is required to meet the growing demand within UK boardrooms, according to global research conducted by PwC.

A recent study has shown that one in three large businesses surveyed by the professional services firm has filled the role of CSO, placing the UK ahead of the European average with 37 per cent hiring a CSO at the first or second management level, compared to a 35 per cent average in Europe.

The appointment of a CSO has a significant effect on a business’s ESG scores and the call for a greater sustainability presence in the boardroom denotes the stratospheric importance of such a role.

The report observes that France is leading the way, followed by the US and India, and believes UK businesses could move more swiftly with future CSO appointments to keep up with demand.

With investors, employees and other stakeholders highlighting the urgency for sustainable transformation, PwC conducted the CSO study in collaboration with its strategy consulting business unit Strategy&.

The report sees a considerable rise in the number of CSO hires over recent years, with more than a third of the total global appointments occurring within the last two years. 

The report reveals France is leading the way with CSO appointments (57 per cent), the USA (47 per cent) and India is hot on the heels (44 per cent), while Germany at 35 per cent is just behind the UK’s 37 per cent. 

Around half of the UK appointments have been hired internally, in line with the global trend, where 59 per cent have been internal hires, with around one in five CSOs already possessing a professional business and sustainability background.

A further 56 per cent of surveyed businesses in the UK already have an employee with sustainability included in their remit, known as a ‘CSO Light’ role. This means they are below the top two management levels or have a narrower scope, for example in relation to corporate social responsibility (CSR).

The study also found a significant change in the requirements for sustainability roles, with today’s CSO role notably more complex when compared to previously lower ranked positions that included CSR within the remit.

In the past, anything relating to CSR was mostly addressed through communications, whereas a CSO role today requires intimate understanding and broad knowledge of every area of the business, in order to develop networks and alliances and understand every aspect of all ESG issues if they are to succeed in troubleshooting and making significant improvements.

Note: Green denotes CSO, grey ‘CSO Light’, and red, no CSO

Carl Sizer, ESG Leader at PwC UK, said: “Sustainability has long passed the point of being a ‘nice to have’ and its importance as a strategic priority for business is evident in the growing number of Chief Sustainability Officers being appointed at the UK’s biggest companies.

“Sustainable transformation is critical in combatting climate change, and so it is encouraging to see that more than 90 per cent of UK businesses surveyed have appointed someone with scope for influencing how that is achieved.

“Having a CSO on the board sends a strong signal to investors, customers and employees that sustainability is a key consideration in both strategic and operational planning.”

Rufus Bullough, Head of Technology at Acre, said:We are finally witnessing the tipping point where an organisation's approach to the challenges and opportunities around Sustainability & ESG is the key indicator of its survival over the next couple of years.

Part of this evolution is understanding how to restructure to place Sustainability & ESG at the core of the organisation's strategy and purpose. The intense scrutiny from employees, consumers and society has elevated leadership in this area and the rise of the Chief Sustainability Officer is unprecedented."

Rufus is a specialist Executive Search consultant, supporting the Sustainability, Corporate Affairs and Communications functions since 2007. He works with Boards and Executive Committees to identify, evaluate and secure the modern blend of skillsets required where performance, purpose and reputation meet.  

Prior to joining Acre, Rufus was a Co-Founder and Partner at Mondo, which was acquired in 2017 by a leading Search firm. Previously, he had set up and led two specialist recruitment practices across Sustainability and Corporate Affairs and created a social enterprise partnering corporate resources with the requirements of NGOs. He established his early career in Sustainability and Communications after completing his degree in Marketing.