How Do I Become a Chief Sustainability Officer?

Daniel Liden

A chief sustainability officer is an individual in charge of an organization's environmental and sustainability concerns. This might include programs dedicated to minimizing a company's negative environmental effect, making some positive contribution to the environment, and educating employees about sustainability. In order to become a chief sustainability officer, it is generally necessary to have executive experience and an interest in sustainability and environmental issues. Education and experience related to sustainability can also greatly improve the likelihood of one being chosen to become a chief sustainability officer. There is not a rigidly defined track of experience or education that one must follow to become a chief sustainability officer, but there are many ways that one can make oneself a good candidate for the position.

A chief sustainability officer is responsible for lessening a company's negative environmental impact.
A chief sustainability officer is responsible for lessening a company's negative environmental impact.

When looking to become a chief sustainability officer, one should choose an educational path that emphasizes both executive and environmental skills and knowledge. Communication, business, and other courses of study that emphasize management and professional communication skills typically can prepare one for this position — some universities even incorporate sustainability training into their MBA programs. A science-related major, such as chemistry or biology, also can give one a strong scientific background, which is important for those who need to make informed decisions relating to sustainability and the environment. More specific scientific courses, such as environmental chemistry or ecology, may make one an even better candidate for a chief sustainability officer position.

Executive experience in environmental issues is necessary to become a chief sustainability officer.
Executive experience in environmental issues is necessary to become a chief sustainability officer.

Work experience is generally as important as education for one who wants to become a chief sustainability officer. As it is an executive position that requires strong management skills, a chief sustainability officer position is generally not given to people without prior executive experience. As such, to become a chief sustainability officer, it is important to gain some executive experience, whether or not it actually relates to sustainability or the environment.

Upon gaining executive experience, one should look for a company that has a job opening for a chief sustainability officer. These types of positions aren't generally bound by particular industries, but they typically are found at larger companies, especially those that highlight some aspect of their business as being "green." Some companies won't actually have a formalized position with this title, but may have a similar position such as an environmental policy manager or a director of social and environmental responsibility, which basically serve the same function and follow a similar education path.

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