Chief Sustainability Officer

This is one of the relatively new ‘green’ careers that has been exploding in popularity in recent years. It is typically an executive level position within a company, in charge of the company’s environmental and social responsibility efforts.

Over the last few years, the position has evolved in many companies from one focusing mainly on compliance with environmental regulations to one that fosters environmental innovation as well. More and more companies are realising that “going green” is not just the right thing to do, it is also the profitable thing to do! Many chief sustainability officers now take an active role in improving a company’s “triple bottom line” – people, the planet and profits – by introducing environmental policies that save money and resources, developing “green” products and services, as well as overseeing marketing efforts to avoid “green-washing,” and more.

Through energy consumption, water usage, transportation practices and the generation of waste, existing buildings have the largest cumulative negative effect on the environment than any other source of impact.

Another aspect of sustainability ties in with both human and environmental factors. “Green” practices correctly applied lead to a safer, healthier workplace because there is little or no exposure to hazardous chemicals or practices. Through custodial processes, dust and indoor contaminants can be reduced. Proper ventilation and exchange rates enhance the air quality. It is being shown increasingly that improved indoor environmental quality in the workplace contributes to increased productivity, decreased absenteeism, better morale and job satisfaction. A knowledgeable CSO can emphasise that personnel costs are the highest expense in any organisation. Thus, safeguarding employee’s physical health and state of mind, contributes directly to the bottom line.

For example, ‘green office behaviour’ in a company would incorporate the following practices with specific reference to paper, printing, storage and energy use etc:

  • recycling of paper, double-sided printing/photocopying, electronic filing
  • energy / electricity - switching off office lights, personal computers, monitors, printers, photocopiers
  • waste - reuse of paper, packaging boxes, old files/folders and envelopes, where possible
  • recycling - CDs, printer/toner cartridges
  • water - water usage for heating purposes and consumption, as well as using water sparingly
  • food - organic or eco-friendly food / beverage consumption at work
  • travelling - limiting unnecessary travel, involvement in video conferencing and phone meetings where appropriate
A position as chief sustainability officer can be a perfect career for people with a passion for both business and the environment, and a concern for the well-being of people

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course, where appropriate

Each institution has its own entry requirements.

What to Study

Because Chief Sustainability Officer is such a recent position, many current CSOs were appointed to their positions more by accident than design. They may simply have been the first experienced executive or manager with an interest in environmental responsibility that anyone could think of. As the title becomes more common, however, it is likely that more and more people will be hired specifically to work on sustainability issues, so having the relevant experience and appropriate education will become increasingly important.

A growing number of business schools are now offering MBAs with a focus on sustainable business.


  • chemical and other manufacturing companies
  • health-care companies
  • mining companies
  • outdoor equipment companies
  • computer companies
  • research laboratories
  • many other companies and businesses

Further Information


Green Marketing

Getting Started

  • speak to a chief sustainability officer about this career
  • try and do voluntary work in this field
  • read up on ways of reducing harmful emissions into the environment

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations