Wednesday, February 27, 2013

GACSO - a forum for Sustainability Professionals

At last week’s meeting hosted by DWF in Manchester Alan Knight, sustainability director at  Business in the Community (BITC) and a founder member of GACSO, the global association for corporate sustainability officers, explained more about the organisation. This is not a body where suppliers come to pitch to sustainable professionals. It exists to allow professionals to meet, compare notes and share best practice. 

The vision of GACSO is that sustainability should be at the heart of corporate strategy. 

Sustainability professionals will guide organisations on the megatrends which shape every business. There is potential synergy between GACSO and organisations such as the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) but they are essentially different. GACSO takes an overview broader than just environment. Its mission is to address the challenge of 9 billion people in the world in 2050. How can these 9 billion people have a good quality of life on our planet when we are already exploiting it at a rate which will need three planets to sustain? Nine billion people will need more materials, more food, more energy, more water and create more waste. No one has faced such a challenge before and there are no guaranteed answers, just big questions. An important question is where the people will come from to take the role of sustainability officer. The business schools may meet the demand in due course but it is still not clear what skills and competencies these people will need. Universities are already seeking relationships with GACSO in order to develop the concept of the corporate sustainability professional.

Arguably sustainability officers, supported by a team, should operate at board level and have a full understanding of finance, governance, carbon management, health and safety and supply chain issues. At the moment, because the notion of sustainability is still ill-defined, the wrong people are often appointed as sustainability officers and are frequently appointed at the wrong level or in the wrong department. 

Corporate sustainability offices are pioneers. They will be reporting to somebody who has never done their job and they themselves will be leading people whose jobs they have never done either. Compare this with a finance or engineering professional who will start at the  detail level and work through a range of roles before becoming a director. 

GACSO is an organisation of professionals and membership therefore is individual not corporate. It plans to hold regional meetings throughout the country - a safe space for professionals to talk about their job. See for more information.