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The Chief Sustainability Officer Will Rise To Prominence In Coming Years As Business Priorities Align With Role Responsibilities, According To First-Of-Its-Kind Survey

News release

WASHINGTON, D.C. AND LONDON — Today the Institute of International Finance (IIF) and Deloitte UK published findings of a global survey of sustainability professionals and other senior executives about the role of Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) in addressing the environmental, social and governance (ESG) imperative.

“Financial service firms can play a critical role in helping transition the world to a low-carbon economy through sustainable finance as well as driving their own evolution. I am pleased that this IIF and Deloitte report provides insight into the role a Chief Sustainability Officer can play in helping drive efforts forward,” Axel Weber, IIF Chairman and Chairman of the Board of Directors of UBS Group AG, said. “One thing is clear: These are whole firm efforts, they need a strong and strategic mandate, and each firm must find its own approach that works for its structure and culture.”

The survey found that the CSO is emerging as a “sense-maker in chief,” and is responsible for understanding and predicting, changes in the external sustainability environment and re-positioning the business model of their respective firms to tackle this head on. Nearly all survey respondents believe the role of the CSO will grow in prominence over the next two years as sustainability continues to be a critical priority for the industry.

“Addressing our climate crisis requires collective action and businesses worldwide must be drivers in this effort,” said Anna Celner, Global Banking & Capital Markets leader, Deloitte Global. “CSOs focussed on measurable, decisive action can help make this a reality and the more empowered we can make them, the more impact we will see across all areas of an organisation. The future of our people, planet and professions depend on it.”

Other key findings from the report:

  • While fewer than 15% of survey respondents report having a CSO in place, more than 75% report having a similar or equivalent position - Head of Sustainability or Head of ESG were the most common.
  • While the detailed mandates of CSOs are as varied as the firms they work for, the survey identified three core themes to the CSO’s general responsibilities:
    1. Make sense of the external environment and bring insights back into the firm;
    2. Help the organisation reconfigure its strategy;
    3. Provide thought leadership and help align teams by engaging, educating and connecting.
  • Respondents view CSOs as strategic, influential, and responsible for making the repercussions of ESG concerns tangible for business lines. In pursuit of this, networking, organisational knowledge and a thorough grounding in the business are viewed as essential attributes.
  • One-third of the survey respondents report to their respective CEOs. The CSOs who say they report directly to their CEOs also say this relationship is the cornerstone of effectiveness in the role.

The findings of this report are based on survey responses from 80 sustainability professionals and senior executives from more than 70 organisations, including CSOs, chief executive officers (CEOs), chief risk officers (CROs), as well as heads of sustainability, ESG and strategy. Respondents represented asset managers, insurers and banks in Europe, North America, Asia and Emerging Markets.

The full report is available here.

About the Institute of International Finance

The Institute of International Finance is the global association of the financial industry, with more than 450 members from more than 70 countries. Its mission is to support the financial industry in the prudent management of risks; to develop sound industry practices; and to advocate for regulatory, financial and economic policies that are in the broad interests of its members and foster global financial stability and sustainable economic growth. IIF members include commercial and investment banks, asset managers, insurance companies, sovereign wealth funds, hedge funds, central banks and development banks.