Create a movement, not a silo

The evolution of the sustainability leader

Alongside embracing data and tech, sustainability leaders are finding a powerful ally by empowering their workforce to tackle emissions from the ground up.

The role of the Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) has entered a new phase. Having pushed to get a seat at the top table for years, many CSOs now have the opportunity to drive significant change. But that means their role is evolving away from being a more siloed specialist, as Joe Franses, Vice President of Sustainability, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners explains.

“The role of the CSO today is not one of communications or storytelling or even data gathering, but one of driving transformation. It has to be about how we transform and decarbonise our businesses if we are to meet long-term net zero targets. How to guide the organisation through this is the number one challenge for sustainability leaders today. Like it or not, the world is no longer interested only in commitments or targets. There has to be a strong focus on delivery, with organisations demonstrating tangible progress and long-term transition towards a low-carbon economy.”

Joe Franses
Vice President of Sustainability, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners

What’s driving the focus on sustainability?

While the science alone should be a compelling reason for sustainability to be at the top of everyone’s agenda, many executive teams are just looking to stabilise and survive in challenging economic conditions after years of significant disruption.

However, there are a number of factors creating momentum for CSOs. Firstly, reporting requirements are now very real, and organisations must act to ensure they can produce investor-grade reporting for a vast number of non-financial metrics. Escalating customer demand for data, targets and demonstrable ESG progress across B2B and B2C is an additional factor, while our research shows that executive reward is increasingly dependent on ESG performance, creating another source of influence.

So how can CSOs take advantage of this moment in time to position themselves and their teams to become transformational leaders? We believe there are three areas that can help maintain momentum.

Embed sustainability into business strategy

“There can no longer be two competing or adjacent strategies driving the business,” says Chris Temple, Net Zero Transformation Leader at PwC UK. “Transformational change across an entire organisation requires complete clarity for everyone from top to bottom. Every employee in every team needs to understand what their decisions and actions can contribute day in, day out”.

“Where we’ve seen lower impact transition plans it has often been when day-to-day strategy and delivery teams are kept separate from a siloed sustainability team, with the latter considered low priority,” says Temple. “This leads to a divergence of business and sustainability strategies, when they should be one and the same.”

The resulting lack of buy-in and accountability undermines the impact of wider decarbonisation projects, as sustainability-driven tasks are seen as incremental to business as usual, and not part of departmental goals. This can also result in the sustainability team being regarded unfavourably as adding to everyone’s work load, reinforcing the sense of division.

“Carbon emissions must be seen as a business-wide metric,” adds Temple. “But with siloing, operational decisions are made without considering their impact on net zero targets. We’ve seen examples where the emissions of acquisitions were not factored into the decision-making process, with significant ramifications on the organisation's progress to net zero. Emissions must be embedded in all core business processes, whether that is workforce strategy, financial planning or technology integration.”

This experience was reflected by Sonya Batchelor, Head of Brand at Baker Hughes

“Creating a cultural shift within the whole organisation so that ESG is a part of everyone’s role and responsibility is a powerful move we are making. We designed the organisation around our targets and rebuilt it from the ground up and sustainability is central to our strategy. The aesthetics of where the sustainability functions sits has a significant influence too as it denotes the controlship and how we engage 55,000 employees to know this is part of their role. Importantly, a cultural mindshift is crucial.”

Sonya Batchelor
Head of Brand at Baker Hughes

Identify your critical friends

This is where diplomacy and interpersonal skills have become a crucial part of the CSO’s arsenal. Sustainability leaders cannot meet this transformation challenge alone.

For Coca-Cola Europacific’s Franses, it meant investing time to build cross-functional relationships. “Sustainability leaders must become internal consultants, activists and strategic advisors, ensuring that carbon is deeply embedded into every business conversation and fully embedded in the analysis of where a business will be in 10 or 20 years’ time.”

Like many organisations, Scope 3 supplier emissions account for over 90% of value chain GHG emissions at Coca-Cola Europacific Partners so Franses prioritised spending time with the organisation’s Chief Procurement Officer and Procurement teams, so that the change can be delivered across the whole value chain.

“They are now fully onboard, they get it, and understand that the size and scale of the transition sits on their watch. Securing support across multiple functions is key and CSOs should count that kind of transformation among their biggest success stories,” Franses adds.

Give data to those at the coal face

Meanwhile, putting data into the hands of the area owners and decision-makers can be a huge enabler of decarbonisation when coupled with initiative tracking, as Ed Irwin, PwC’s Net Zero Transformation Partner explains.

“We worked with an energy company where there was huge grassroots support to drive decarbonisation. But employees needed help to unlock this potential. Creating tools that allowed employees to understand site-level emissions, identify decarbonisation projects and calculate their potential impact unleashed the power of people across the globe. With the data in their hands, engineers spotted that a huge part of emissions came from vessels idling in ports, which prompted the development of new solar-powered docking stations, now designed, built and piloted. Empowering every employee to drive change can have a profound impact in this way.”

Embracing sustainability tech can also create space for innovation and growth, as Hannah Cool, Director at PwC UK, explains. “Technology and good data management should be used as enablers of change, reducing the burden on teams and freeing them up to do the strategic thinking and problem-solving that can only come from the truly agile human mind.”

The magnitude of the operational shift that decarbonisation demands is vast, but the opportunities for growth are rapidly emerging. Those organisations which harness the knowledge and ingenuity of their people, coupled with the efficiencies that data and sustainability technologies bring will most likely find themselves ahead of the field. And it is sustainability leaders who are a keystone of that game-changing picture.

Contact us

Christopher Temple

Christopher Temple

Net Zero Transformation Leader, PwC United Kingdom

Ed Irwin

Ed Irwin

Partner, Net Zero Transformation, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7725 707227

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