The Race to Find Sustainability Leaders of the Future

Sustainability has replaced digitization at top of the corporate agenda. However, only about 30 percent of companies in Germany and worldwide have filled the position of CSO. There is a huge need for transformation. What does this mean for the job market? Which applicant profiles will become more important in the future? An interview with Martin Krill, Managing Director of HAGER Executive Consulting about the challenges of sustainability in the search for new CSOs and qualified visionaries

by Natascha Zeljko | 28 Jun, 2023
The Race to Find Sustainability Leaders of the Future

What does the CV of a future CSO (Chief Sustainability Officer) look like?

When it came to job titles, "S'' used to stand primarily for Security or Sales, now Sustainability has joined the list. The demand for CSOs has increased enormously. Between 2020 and 2023, as many CSOs were being advertised for as in the previous 20 years combined. We need to find new ways to find the right people for the job, because now there are not enough qualified sustainability managers and not enough clearly defined roles at a corporate level. Sustainability was often covered as an add-on to another position.

What qualifications and skills are particularly in demand for expanding a sustainability strategy at executive level?

The most important thing is an ability to communicate well to grow acceptance within the company, but also motivation to make changes, strategic and analytical thinking, and an understanding of the fears and needs of stakeholders. These core competencies cannot be gleaned from a CV, so we test them with various interview techniques during the selection process: How reflective, independent, and creative is a candidate? How successful have they already been in implementing transformation?

And the expertise?

Experience in environmental management is ideal, a master's degree in sustainability, resource management, environmental informatics, or economics is great, but more aspirational applicant profiles are also required to meet the demand. Experience living in developing countries, where you are confronted with resource scarcity daily, is a good basis for innovative and creative approaches as in such situations, you are forced to find new and sustainable solutions on site. In addition, global cooperation is trained in NGOs, which is important if you have to think in a networked way in order to meet global ESG goals.

Developing countries play a significant role in terms of sustainability. Does that mean with a bachelor's degree in sociology plus experience in Sudan you could jump into a C-level position?

In theory, yes. But in practice many companies have already filled the role of CSO or sustainability manager from within their own ranks. Networking within the company and understanding of all business areas is immensely important to bring about change, to bring everyone along, and to inspire others.

Which industries have the most pressing need for more sustainability experts?

This lack of sustainability experts is playing out across every market, but the energy and utilities sector has the greatest demand due to the need for decarbonization and the search for renewable alternatives. The construction industry also needs experts and strategies to innovate new building materials and technologies. Similarly, the transportation, logistics, agriculture, and food production industries urgently need to embed sustainability concepts into their businesses and governance structures. And then there is the financial sector, which, with its control of capital flows, has an important lever in its hands when it comes to the sustainable transformation of the economy and society. Here, there is a particular need for regulation.

‘Innovation is never sustainable,’ says Michael Braungart. How is this reflected in the development of companies, and where does this shift the focus in the labor market?

In my opinion, innovation and sustainability are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, sustainability drives development in corporate business. It has to. Economically-sensible transformation initiatives with new production models and strategic approaches will become a competitive advantage in the capital market and in the job market, because the purpose-driven generation is looking for just that.

Economically-sensible transformation initiatives with new production models and strategic approaches will become a competitive advantage in the capital market and in the job market, because the purpose-driven generation is looking for just that.

Which interfaces and KPIs are relevant to transform traditional profit-seeking into a more sustainable approach?

The EU is set to initiate sustainability reporting with the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which will come into force in 2024. Approximately 15,000 companies will be required to give transparency in the areas of strategy, implementation, and performance measurement (key performance indicator system). The issues include more efficient logistics and transportation, the use of renewable energy, recycling, and the circular economy, and the energy efficiency of buildings. The earlier a company initiates the transformation process and complies with the reporting obligation, the greater its lead and reputation will be.

How is the growing importance of sustainability goals changing your own work and executive search more widely?

Until a few years ago, sustainability competencies, social, and transformation skills were hardly relevant. Today, we have to observe and assess these as core competencies. The most important thing here is curiosity. That’s true for both the applicant and the recruiter. Change usually fails because of the people involved.

This article is part of a content cooperation between Fe:maleOneZero (F10) and HAGER Executive Consulting. The company, which specializes in executive search, has repeatedly been named one of the best personnel consultancies in Germany by the magazines WirtschaftsWoche and Focus. HAGER Executive Consulting employs around 110 people and, in addition to its extensive know-how in the field of digitalization, is also considered a specialist in issues relating to diversity and innovation.



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