Evolution of the Sustainability Officer Role

The role of the sustainability officer has significantly changed over the last few years. Looking 20+ years back, the sustainability officer was funding and overseeing profile corporate projects on sustainability and social responsibilities.

Over the last years, the role has evolved, significantly, at a wildfire pace. The sustainability officer has become strategic to the corporate, to the corporate value, being externally exposed through transparency to corporate sustainability strategies, objectives and disclosed key results.

This article is overviewing recent design research on the sustainability officer/manager persona for IBM AI Applications sustainability offering.

Sustainability Organisation

The sustainability officer is leading a corporate function with an inner core team of up to 10 team members.

Team members are

  • Manager of sustainability
  • Data analysts
  • Experts in reporting
  • Experts in environmental, social, and governance topics
  • Experts in industry-specific sustainability topics


The team is supported by other corporate functions, increasing the extended team to 10s to 100s of contributors

  • Finance and Marketing
  • Data and IT
  • Technology and Engineering
  • Health, Risk, Safety, Environmental, and Compliance
  • Procurement and Distribution
  • Operations

Organizational Maturity

Corporations are currently at a range of maturity levels.

Some organizations are in a Compliance stage, reporting on mandatory regulations using manually collected data, often challenged by data at scale and low quality.

Most other organizations are in an Optimisation stage, with a defined sustainability strategy, and started taking optimizing actions by defining goals, monitoring targets, running conservation projects, and acting on KPIs based on data analytic insights.

Some organizations have transitioned into an Innovation stage, with investments in product and service innovation for a sustainable business transformation.

The Sustainability Officer

Sustainability Personas
Kristina, the Sustainability Officer persona

The sustainability officer is responsible for

  • Leading the sustainability mission and team
  • Translating the corporate business strategy to a sustainability strategy
  • Establishing principles and goals implementing the sustainability strategy
  • Gathering, defining, and implementing sustainability best practices
  • Reporting on sustainability KPIs monthly to executive boards
  • Reporting through mandatory sustainability disclosures
  • Reporting on broad areas of corporate, environmental, conservation, innovation, people, and society goals
  • Reporting to investors, analysts, and sustainability rating agencies
  • Engaging other supporting corporate functions
  • Engaging operations on sustainability projects


The sustainability officer is performing the following tasks

  • Managing day-to-day sustainability operations
  • Educate board of directors on sustainability
  • Work with internal business stakeholders
  • Work with investor relations team and investors.
  • Build skills, engagement, and momentum in the organization
  • Facilitate strategy meetings, target setting, and LOB conversations
  • Facilitate corporate sustainability improvement programs
  • Perform data collection, processing, and analytics
  • Assemble sustainability KPIs for disclosures
  • Ensure audits on sustainability disclosures
  • Keeping tabs on sustainability issues
  • Perform risk scenario analysis


The sustainability officer is experiencing the following pain-points

  • The scale of data and data quality. Often up to 2000+ metrics and associated data sources.
  • Lots and lots of reporting. Often 20+ assessments and frameworks
  • Frequency of changing regulations and standards
  • Manual data collection across the corporate, supply chain, and service providers
  • Lag of data availability for steering and reporting
  • Accessibility to data in (some) global regions
  • Difficulties to trace scope 3 emissions back through the chain of suppliers
  • Data quality controls to avoid audit failures
  • Sustainability auditing as strong as financial auditing
  • Ownership and monitoring of improvement programs
  • Understand the investor scoring KPIs
  • Ability to backcast and forecast KPIs