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Evolution of the Chief Sustainability Officer role in Manufacturing

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Evolution of the Chief Sustainability Officer role in Manufacturing

Evolution of the Chief Sustainability Officer role in Manufacturing

​Concerns about the environment have increased dramatically over recent years. A growing focus on sustainable practices means that the role of Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) is undergoing significant transformation in the manufacturing sector. This evolution is massively impacting both the industry and large-scale environmental changes.


A Shift in Perspective

Traditionally, the CSO’s role was to monitor performance and ensure that the company complied with environmental reporting standards. They mostly enacted compliance and legislation. But sustainability has moved to the forefront of business priorities, generating a shift in the CSO’s responsibilities. They are now expected to implement strategic change. Becoming more involved in conversations with customers and other sustainability specialists means that business strategy is now a key part of the role. Companies want their sustainability initiatives to align with their business objectives and it is the CSO’s job to make this happen.

A High Impact on Manufacturing

Such a strong shift in environmental focus is going to have a knock-on effect and the manufacturing sector is especially impacted. Firstly, the CSO has become increasingly integrated into manufacturing businesses’ core functions. This fundamental transformation of the company structure is most noticeable in product design, operational excellence, packaging, and carbon footprint management.

Product Design

Key decisions that determine up to 80% of a product’s lifetime emissions are determined at the product design stage. Construction companies must incorporate greenhouse gas emissions into this simulation if we are to build a sustainable world. Trade-offs made during this stage allow the product design teams to build on proven cost-optimisation techniques.

Operational Excellence

It’s true that operational excellence has been a strong focus for decades, with businesses striving to improve efficiency and reduce waste. But breakthrough results have failed to happen. Energy management is a crucial part of any decarbonisation journey, but there’s been a surprising lack of focus on it in the construction sector. Companies are now realising how crucial energy management is to overcoming these challenges.


Cynics may call the recent trend towards eco-friendly packaging just a buzzword. But it’s becoming a standard in the construction industry. Continuous developments and innovative concepts, like biodegradable and compostable bioplastics, have enabled manufacturers to make bold commitments to sustainability.

Carbon Footprint

The spotlight on climate change and carbon emissions is only going to get brighter. This means that it is essential that manufacturers work towards achieving net-zero and circular operations. A key focus has to be innovative and sustainable solutions, such as using renewable electricity or green hydrogen to run factories.

The Challenges to a Sustainable Future

The transition towards a more sustainable business model is fraught with difficulties. A key challenge that must be overcome is balancing real authenticity with depth of data, combined with the added problem of communicating this effectively. Companies often struggle with how far they can go, what they can say and what they should say in terms of sustainability. This is particularly true for small sustainability teams because understanding (and breaking down) carbon data to a level that is useful for decision makers is a complex task.

Another major challenge is the CSO’s shift from being a compliance manager to a business manager. CSOs now need to grapple with multiple areas, including legal, finance, comms, compliance, manufacturing, purchasing and strategy. That is a lot of balls to juggle; as sustainability professionals become generalists, they must be equipped with enough knowledge to advise their businesses on how to embed sustainability practices.

Changing Perspective

Despite significant challenges, has been a notable shift in perspective across the supply chain. Sustainability is no longer considered as an area of concern solely for the CSO or the sustainability team. Rather, it is seen as a driving force for the business, powered by data, profit, and emission reductions.

Manufacturing is well placed to tackle sustainability issues due to its long-standing focus on energy and lean technologies. With energy accounting for up to 40% of a manufacturing company’s spend, the significance of using sustainable practices to reduce these costs cannot be overstated.

Technology and Data are Key

Technology and data play a crucial role in shaping sustainability strategies within manufacturing. One example is smart metres, which enable companies to see their energy usage in real-time via a smart screen. This helps them to identify energy wastage before it is too late to do anything about it. Technologies like this should and can be leveraged to propel sustainability strategies.

Why Do We Need Sustainable Manufacturing?

Sustainable manufacturing is not just necessary to the survival of the planet, it is also beneficial for businesses. Companies who have committed to sustainable practices have witnessed surprisingly positive results, such as:

●        Rise in operational efficiency

●        Safer operating environment

●        Wider connection with potential customers

●        Strengthened brand recognition and public trust

●        Increased compliance with regulatory constraints

●        Heightened competitive advantage

The key to achieving these lies in our perception of sustainability. It can be an investment that creates value and drives improved results, rather than as an initiative that imposes higher operating costs. By embedding sustainability goals into their overall purpose and business structure, companies can ensure that sustainability delivers positive returns.

Manufacturing, the CSO and the Future

The CSO’s role in manufacturing has evolved significantly over the years, shifting from a compliance-centric role to one that is pivotal to strategic change. As sustainability continues to take centre stage in business operations, the CSO will undoubtedly become even more integral to the company’s success. By embracing sustainability, manufacturers can not only contribute positively to the environment but also ensure long-term business success.