10 Benefits of a Fractional Chief Sustainability Officer

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Andries Verschelden Co-founder & CEO
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Environmental, social and governance (ESG) expectations are increasing rapidly. Disclosure and reporting are more pressing than ever – 90% of S&P500 index companies now publish sustainability reports – and will likely intensify under new SEC leadership. Technology industry leaders like Google, Salesforce, Microsoft, Amazon have publicly committed to ambitious targets across a range of ESG issues. Whether your company should be sustainably minded is no longer a question, the challenge for many is how to get there effectively.

99% of CEOs believe ESG performance is crucial for the future success of their business

UN Global Compact

Over the past decade, Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) have grown in numbers, yet the truth is that very few companies, particularly small to mid-sized firms, require 2,000 hours of a CSOs time each year. As companies begin to craft a comprehensive plan around ESG performance, they may find periods where they need a full day or multiple weeks of work, followed by individual teams carrying out the determined activities. Rather than bring on a new leadership role full-time, a fractional CSO fills the need for a growing business to establish and expand its sustainability function.

Following are the tens reasons why every company should consider a fractional CSO and how Good.Lab can fill this role with an interim resource right sized for your needs.

1. Flexible sustainability leadership, when and where you need it

Flexibility gives companies options. When it comes to sustainability and ESG, one day you might need a comprehensive GHG footprint assessment across facilities, the next a new project collecting Scope 3 emissions data from vendors of varying size and capabilities across your supply chain, and the very next a comprehensive plan for diversifying leadership around equity and inclusion initiatives. With a flexible, fractional CSO, you can design an engagement “at scale” to match your company’s growing sustainability function.

2. Access to world class sustainability expertise, at your fingertips

Outsourcing your CSO provides access to a level of sustainability talent that might not otherwise be available. Many highly experienced CSOs would not commit full-time to a small or mid-sized operation, however, they may be happy to devote 25 hours a month to high-level guidance. Outsourcing also enables hiring ESG subject matter experts for specific needs. For example, a startup might hire a fractional CSO to develop an overarching sustainability strategy plan, however require a different expert for a supply chain survey assessment, and another specialist for setting up an ESG database or software. Very few full-time CSOs would be the best in all three specialties which brings us back to Good.Lab’s model of finding the right sustainability experts for each of your engagements or empowering your fractional CSO to staff and manage required resources for your company’s various sustainability initiatives.

3. A fractional Chief Sustainability Officer brings diverse experience to each engagement

No matter where you are in your sustainability journey, your company wants to be working with experts who are at the top of their game and bring the real-world expertise to back it up. Fractional CSO are connected to multiple companies and can leverage that experience to provide a balanced perspective. With Good.Lab, you gain access to former Fortune500 sustainability executives who’ve implemented vital ESG policies at some of the world’s top firms, and have experience deploying those best industry practices at startups and non-profits. Much like they’ve accomplished for other similarly sized companies, our experts can help you embed ESG into your operations at a strategic level rather than just check a box.

4. Stay ahead of the curve with a fractional Chief Sustainability Officer

True ESG performance means leading the game, not playing catch up. We provide access to and pioneers among former Fortune500 sustainability executives who see further and know what to expect sooner than anyone in the industry. ESG today isn’t just about reducing emissions or having a more equal workforce. It’s about understanding the synergies and trade-offs between multiple facets of performance. A seasoned ESG-expert will not promise 360 degree wins but can show you where opportunities lie and how to avoid costly pitfalls.

5. Attract more customers with a fractional Chief Sustainability Officer

Focusing on sustainability gives you a huge competitive edge. Nearly 70% of North American consumers prefer sustainable or eco-friendly brands according to a new study by IBM and the National Retail Federation. Buyers these days want sustainable innovations that provide long-term returns over short-term solutions, just look at the popularly of sites like, BuyMeOnce. In the near future, it will be quite impossible to find a stakeholder that doesn’t expect you to be a responsible corporate citizen. Your customers are smart enough to see through greenwashing initiatives and most companies today can’t bear the negative publicity and brand hit of being seen as an ESG laggard. Employing a fractional CSO gives your company the data chops to back up what you say you’re doing, so you can have the confidence of measurable ESG improvements to share publicly.

6. Retain strong employees and recruit new ones with fractional sustainability leadership

More than 70% of millennials say they are more likely to work for a company with a strong environmental agenda, according to a recent Fast Company survey. Moreover, most of those respondents said that a strong sustainability plan would affect their decision to stay with a company longer-term. With today’s workforce prioritizing sustainability as key component of company culture, a fractional CSO can help your company to set and communicate important initiatives around diversity, equity and inclusion. A fractional or outside resource can also tap into their leadership skills to ensure these initiatives are prioritized from the top down.

7. Build a future-fit business with a fractional Chief Sustainability Officer

Sustainable companies effectively outperform their S&P500 counterparts, particularly in times of crisis. They are less vulnerable to complex business risks and deliver higher equity returns. With a fractional CSO or part-time ESG expert on your team you can make sure that your ESG initiatives are embedded fully into your operations, rather than greenwashing attempts or mere photo opportunities. A CSO will work with various departments to build value and uncover opportunities, such as with your supply chain team to set policies around vendor contracts or with your facilities managers to begin monitoring for your emissions footprint. With past leadership experience under their belt, a fractional CSO can make sure the work gets done across departments and steer through the occasional competing interest.

8. Grow faster with a fractional Chief Sustainability Officer

U.S. equity sustainable funds have seen the largest inflows compared to any other asset class since 2016, while investors are sharpening their eye for ESG performance, with the meteoric rise in sustainability-linked loans. As GreenBiz Group, Chairman & Executive Editor, Joel Makower rightly said, “when the cost of money is tied to a company’s sustainability performance: Game on.” The ability to make sense of this new landscape is a recipe for growth. While leadership teams are keenly aware of the opportunity, they’ll benefit most from the perspective of a seasoned, ESG expert who has access to the best industry specific tools and software out there and can help your company focus on ESG factors that can significantly broaden your potential investor base.

9. Manage risk with a fractional Chief Sustainability Officer

As ESG criteria gains global prominence, the number of obligatory and voluntary frameworks grow by the day. Instead of trying to meet compliance requirements as they come, a fractional CSO can help to build necessary systems and ensure that your company is collecting, reporting and monitoring its internal and external ESG data for risk and compliance. This task is increasingly falling onto the plates of finance teams or getting pushed aside. Companies that aren’t assessing for ESG criteria may be caught off-guard as these pre-financial risks become central to business strategy. A fractional CSO can work as a partner to your CFO to ensure you’re employing best sustainable business practices and transparent ESG reporting.

10. Supercharge your ESG performance with a fractional Chief Sustainability Officer

Why reinvent the wheel when you can hire an expert who’s done the work already? A fractional CSO will ensure you have the right policies in place at all times and can help you implement new ones if needed. Rather than just focus on the mundane data tasks related to ESG data, a fractional CSO will know how to treat material business risks, which is key not only to understanding their impact on your long-term financial performance, but also to unlocking potential “hidden value” in your business. A fractional CSO not only knows what investors want to see in your ESG performance, what customers and prospective employees are looking for, but they’re also there to design and implement solutions that can be used by you and your team daily to get a better handle on the role ESG risks and sustainability reporting play in building value and brand protection.

Hiring a fractional Chief Sustainability Officer can supercharge your ESG performance. Unlike a full-time hire, the risk with an outsourced CSO is pretty minimal and the reward pretty great. We are always happy to be a sounding board for growing companies who are looking for sustainability leadership to help them reach next-level ESG performance. Contact us today for a no-obligation consultation about your needs.

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