Registration is now open for Greenbuild 2023 in Washington, DC   Register

Chief sustainability officer

Chief sustainability officers (CSO) facilitate the development of organization or community-wide sustainability goals and oversee the execution of plans, policies, programs, and practices aimed at achieving them.

Quick facts: Chief sustainability officer
2021 Median Pay $179,520 annual; $86.21 hourly
Typical Entry-Level Education Master's degree
Number of Jobs, 2021 283,900
Job Outlook, 2021-31 -2%
Employment Change, 2021-31 17,700
Source O*Net

CSOs work across departments and teams to break down silos; they communicate and coordinate with management, stakeholders, customers, employees, and other constituents to advance sustainability goals. They often engage in performance management and evaluate organizational activities in service of sustainability metrics.

The breadth and depth of sustainability efforts are expanding rapidly, but the work is rooted in the triple bottom line: equity, economy, and environment. The CSO uses systems thinking to consider the impacts of its products or practices across the three pillars. A CSO might evaluate trends in building or community energy or water performance, improve working conditions in their supply chain, create better safety procedures for employees, or contribute to product development that addresses environmental or social problems. The CSO articulates complex issues and results clearly and effectively that must resonate with its broad stakeholder group.

Depending on a company's or a community's level of involvement with sustainability, the CSO’s role will differ. Some focus on complying with ESG reporting or regulations; others focus on finding inefficiencies and resolving or correcting them. Some work at the policy level embedding sustainability throughout the organization so that it becomes a part of the business model and culture, while others are deeply engaged in innovation and market transformation.

How to become a chief sustainability officer

C-suite positions such as chief sustainability officer are part of the executive team within companies, and thus, it is a job that most people assume after years of work in sustainability consulting, leadership development, and/or sustainability management. For this reason, it’s hard to draw a line between a particular postsecondary degree and the position of CSO; but courses in business management, public administration, sustainability leadership, sustainability science, supply chains, environmental or social policy and law, and environmental economics would provide the knowledge useful for meeting the job description of a CSO. Important skills include critical thinking, speaking, active listening, leadership, decision-making, and problem-solving.

Education and resources

Access courses and resources to learn about green building and sustainability.

Online courses

Stay up to date on the latest developments in green building through access to online courses with an annual subscription to the USGBC course catalog.

Role on a LEED project

LEED is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. Available for virtually all building and community types, LEED provides a framework for healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings and communities. LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement and leadership.

Accessibility Tools