Chief Sustainability Officer - the next gig for a CIO

CIO no longer means Career Is Over. CIOs should not underestimate their skills and organizational clout to lead the company in its sustainability efforts by being a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO).

Leverage relationship with the business: As a CIO you work closely with the business and have holistic understanding of the challenges that the business faces and the growth opportunities that they aspire to go after. You can leverage the relationship with the business to own and execute the sustainability strategy and effectively measure and monitor the progress using the expertise and investment into the IT systems. You can walk your business folks through your scenario-based architecture to help them quantify the business impact of the sustainability initiatives and estimate the required transformation efforts.

Start with Green IT and lead the industry: Start with the area that you are most familiar with. Reduce the carbon footprint of your IT systems by improving the PUE of the data centers and better manage energy consumption of the desktops. If you do decide to disinvest into the data centers and move tools and applications to the cloud it will not only reduce the energy cost but would also result in consuming cleaner energy. Share your best practices with your industry peers and lead your industry in the sustainability efforts.

Make Sustainability a business differentiation: For many organizations sustainability is not just a line item in the corporate responsibility report, it is actually the future growth strategy and a sustainable competitive advantage over their competition e.g. sustainable supply chain, higher operating margins, end-to-end environmental compliance etc. As a CIO you have the right weapons and skills in your arsenal to transform the organization in the sustainability initiatives. You could innovate your company out to grow leaps and bounds by focusing on the sustainability. This could be a blue ocean strategy for many organizations that are struggling in the red ocean to beat the competition. You do have an opportunity to empower your customers in their mission to be sustainable by providing them the data that they need e.g. a bill of material with the carbon footprint and recycle index, realtime energy measurement etc.

Redefine the program management office: The sustainability projects are very similar to IT projects in many ways - make a large set of stakeholders to commit without having much influence on them, work with internal employees, customers, and partners etc. Traditionally you have been running the program management office for technology and information management projects. Apply the same model and leverage skills of your program managers to run sustainability projects internally as well as externally. Sustainability is fundamentally about changing people's behavior. Promote alternate commute program tools such as RideSpring, carbon social networks such as Carbonrally, and employee-led green networks such as eBay Green Team. Run targeted campaigns to reduce energy and paper consumption, increase awareness, and solicit green ideas. Right kind of tools with an executive push and social support could create a great sustainable movement inside an organization.

Chief Sustainability Officer is an emerging title. Your ability to work across the organization, leverage relationship with the business to sell them on the sustainability goals, and manage the tools that are penetrated in all parts of your organization make you well suited for this role. A CSO does not necessarily have to be a domain expert in sustainability. In fact I would expect a CSO to be a people-person that can make things happen with the help of the sustainability experts and visionaries.

Now you know what your next gig looks like.

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