Why you need a sustainability officer

The weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

We’ve got CEOs, CTOs, CMOs, CFOs and CPOs so why are there so few CSOs in printing and publishing? Chief Sustainability Officers, tasked with managing sustainability of a company, have an extensive and interesting job description. On the one hand you’d think they just worry about the environmental dimension of a company. But their responsibilities may also extend to the overall health of the business, and of ensuring its sustainable future. Which one takes priority and by how big a margin, depends on the starting point.

In the printing and publishing industries most companies are small to medium sized enterprises. This can make it expensive to appoint a single individual to manage environmental sustainability. And smaller businesses are not necessarily equipped to support the role of a dedicated CSO longterm. More sensibly the role can easily be added on to existing functions, such as finance or business development. The CSO remit is to drive the company’s overall mission and commitment to pushing and managing sustainability programmes. But in such a scenario there is a risk of loss of focus, so commitment has to be absolute.

It has to be said that sincere and active commitment to sustainability within printing and publishing and their supply chains is patchy. Sustainability is not universally seen as a top priority in the sector, so making it a core task or responsibility is relatively unusual. Sustainability is on the edge of most managers’ views, even though the whole company might appreciate initiatives to develop a more sustainable organisation and business. Sadly it’s still more theoretical than real. But no matter how large or small the organisation is, all businesses should put environmental impact mitigation front and centre.

How individuals tasked with doing this achieve it, depends on the degree of support senior management and other stakeholders provide. Getting and quantifying the right support is obviously the first step, along with capturing budget. After that, a CSO must be able to fully appreciate the sustainability dimensions of all company policies, from HR through to sales and supply chain management. They must also be prepared for continuous and often pretty tedious knowledge development. Concept development plus dogged determination to improve existing habits and implement changes is perhaps the hardest part of the role: it has to be effective and accountable. New ideas for improved sustainability must also meet wider business objectives as well as sustainability goals. Effective communication is central to the role of a CSO, especially when it comes to selling ideas to skeptical colleagues and suppliers. Fortunately this is a two-way street because few managers want to have to keep up with the slippery landscape of environmental regulations. If a business reaches across multiple jurisdictions that aspect of the role becomes even more vital both for the business and for the planet.

– Laurel Brunner

This article was produced by the Verdigris Project, an industry initiative intended to raise awareness of print’s positive environmental impact. This weekly commentary helps printing companies keep up to date with environmental standards, and how environmentally friendly business management can help improve their bottom lines. Verdigris is supported by the following companies: Agfa Graphics, EFI, Fespa, Fujifilm, HP, Kodak, Miraclon, Ricoh, Splash PR, Unity Publishing and Xeikon.