CEO means Chief Executive Officer.  A CFO is the Chief Financial Officer, the COO is the Chief Operating Officer and the HRD is the Human Resources Director. We are familiar with most of these terms, even if some of us aren’t always clear on the distinction between one and the other.  What about a CSO, a Chief Sustainability Officer?

Name the company: DuPont, Georgia Pacific, COKE, if it is among the 100 largest companies in the world, it probably has a Sustainability Officer, and if it doesn’t have one, it will soon. Many MBA programs now include sustainability training

That should come as no surprise.  The cost of using energy and water continues to increase. The public’s tolerance of spending public money to clean up messes created by private companies while those companies pocket record profits, has eroded.   That has created a demand for people who can help reduce a company’s carbon foot print and take advantage of opportunities in the “new” green economy.

Creating a separate CSO position in these companies makes sense, but it belies a growing truth.  That good business is green business.  No one should know that better than ranchers.  If we erode or impoverish the soil, production will drop unless we replace the lost fertility with chemicals.  Either way it affects profitability. It isn’t just a direct relationship between ecosystem health and economic health, it is the same relationship.  As I wrote in an earlier ProfitTips, we ought not be talking about economics and ecology as separate topics but eco-nomics or econology.

I like the way Joel Salatin puts it. He says, If our farms aren’t fun, aren’t profitable and are too much work, our children won’t want them…romancing the next generation is the ultimate test of sustainability.  With that in mind, the CSO has to ensure that the business is profitable and financially solvent (the role of the CFO). They need to see to it that people are treated fairly and are effective in their roles (the job of the HRD). They need to make sure that the business is productive and profitable and that resources and infrastructure are maintained so that production and profit can be sustained indefinitely (the role of the COO).  It looks to me like the CSO is the CEO of the 21st century.

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  1. Let’s look it up. As defined by Wikipedia, as good a source as any on this kind of thing, sustainability is “the capacity to endure” I disagree that the meaning of the word is subject to personal interpretation. If it is, then the word is meaningless.

    To endure a place needs to work ecologically, socially, economically and financially. I would agree that what it takes to do that on one place may be different than what it takes on another. I’ll also argue that just becuase a place is sustainable now, it doesn’t guarantee its survival into the future. Conditions change and what works today may not work tomorrow. Saying a place is sustainable is to say it has a chance of surviving into the future.


  2. Very good blog, Dave. Give me a call, sometime. 620-417-0059.


  3. Sustainability is a fluid term defined by the user.


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