In 2021 and 2022 I performed strategic, user, and persona research on climate and sustainability for operational sustainability capabilities in IBM sustainability solutions.

This article overviews the design research insights on the sustainability and operations manager personas.

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 few years, the role has evolved, significantly, at a wildfire pace. The sustainability officer is no longer an environmentalist, and a ‘tree-hugger’. The sustainability officer has become a strategic executive at the corporate level. The role is now important to corporate finances, investors, and shareholders. And more externally exposed through transparency to corporate sustainability strategies, objectives, and disclosed key results.

The sustainability role is now integrated with the executive team and part of the inner executive board, and working alongside the CEO, CFO, COO, CIO, CDO. Sustainability responsibilities are aligned with finance, money, market share, corporate survival, and business (re-)innovation.

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.
  • Experts in data acquisition, data analytics, and sustainability reporting.
  • Experts in environmental, social, and governance topics.
  • Experts in governmental regulations.
  • Experts in physical climate risks and transitional business risks.
  • Experts in industry-specific sustainability topics like; emissions, circularity, forestry, mining, and energy production.

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

  • Finance and Marketing.
  • Data and IT.
  • Technology and Engineering.
  • Health, Risk, Safety, Environmental, and Compliance.
  • Procurement and Distribution.
  • Operations.
  • And industry-specific functions like Finance; Mortgage, Residential, Commercial, Loans, and Investments.

The Sustainability Officer

Sustainability Personas
Kristina, the Sustainability Officer persona

Mobile Multiple screens   Devices

Experience 10+ years of experience

Also known as: Chief Sustainability Officer, CSO, Sustainability Manager

Education Master degree – Sustainable Resource Management, Biochemistry, Chemical engineering

Multiple screens Sustainability reporting systems and Financial systems, Email, SMS



The sustainability officer is responsible for

  • Leading the sustainability mission and team.
  • Translating the corporate business strategy to a sustainability strategy.
  • Establishing principles and targets for implementing the sustainability strategy.
  • Gathering, defining, and implementing sustainability best practices.
  • Gathering data for mandatory sustainability disclosures.
  • 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.
  • Engage other corporate functions, like operations, environment, and safety.
  • Engaging operations on sustainability projects implementing corporate targets.


The sustainability officer is performing the following tasks

  • Managing day-to-day sustainability operations.
  • Educate the board of directors on sustainability.
  • Educate the organization on corporate sustainability strategies and targets.
  • Work with internal business stakeholders.
  • Work with the 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.
  • Work with operations stakeholders on data collection, processing, and analytics.
  • 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.

“I want to stop reporting and start acting.”

“I’m overwhelmed with investor and analyst questions on our sustainability assessments.”

“I have stopped using the word CLIMATE – Too existential and scary.”

“Regulators and investors are asking for it, customers are demanding it, and employees are expecting it.”

Operations Officer

Greg, the Operations Manager persona.

Sustainability Personas
Greg, the Operations Manager persona

Mobile Multiple screens Multiple screens  Devices

Experience 5-10 years of experience

Education Graduate or Bachelor degree. Engineering

Multiple screens Maximo Suite, Business Operations systems and Financial systems, Email, SMS


Safety first

Operations have the responsibility to not put the plant, staff, and operations at risk. Balance demand, capacity, and risks to operations.

Priorities are

  • Safety first.
    • Always prioritizing the safety of employees, the local community, and operational equipment.
  • Deliver on operational target.
    • Optimize performance to deliver on production plan.
    • Assess the impact of risk factors on shift operations.
    • Mitigate risks to ensure safety.
  • Ensure rules and regulations are followed
    • Record production losses, incidents, and emissions.
    • Monitors to stay within emission rights and certificates.
    • Tracking emissions down to assets.
    • Request new licenses or request production to move to other plants.
    • Identify and analyze defects and perform root-cause analysis.
  • Maintain operational resources
    • Predicts consumption demands and maintenance windows for units to go offline.
    • Plan and schedule maintenance.
    • Plan and schedule operational changes.


Operational impacts

  • Production parameters and forecast accuracy; Solar, Cloud coverage, Wind, Hydro.
  • Impact on demand, price, production load, capacity, transmission, delivery, and plant availability.
  • Weather forecasts lack integration with operational systems.
  • Increasing climate-related incidents causing increasing costs.
  • Unpredictable weather impacts operations from; Hurricanes, Storms, Thunderstorms, Long periods of cold, Floods, Landslides, and Erosion.
  • Risk of staff safety and disruptions to production.
  • Lack of interest in unquantified weather risks and proactive risk planning.
  • Damage to assets, impact to 3rd party, fines, claims, and corporate reputation.
  • Cost of maintenance, repair, and replacement.
  • Costs of hardening or moving assets.
  • Cost and funding for climate scenario analysis.
  • Climate impact on asset replacement strategies.


  • Manage operational targets; # emissions, # incidents, # worker injuries.
  • Manage emission certificates.
  • Manage carbon performance reporting and audits.
  • Sustainability reporting of carbon footprint is generally uncommon.
  • Sustainability data can/is based on operational data in SCADA systems.
  • Evidence of carbon improvement programs is anecdotal and fragmented.


  • Operationalize identification, assessment, and management of climate risks.
  • Business impact and attention to the weather, environment, and climate conditions as part of existing operational workflows.
  • Short-term weekly forecasts.
  • Longer quarterly seasonal predictions.
  • AI-supported decisions for reliable and predictive operations.


  • Unplanned downtime and losses in productivity.
  • Many information sources; views and lack of correlation across production, plan, work orders, operator logs, assets, and risk.
  • Worker awareness of safety and reporting.
  • Ensure compliance with regulations and reporting.
  • Lack of integrated weather risk forecasts.
  • Too many operator-level alerts and notifications.

“Safety first!”

“Climate conditions can cost us a lot of money and loss of customer satisfaction.”

“Sustainability happens at some other place with some other people.”