The Leonardo Centre published a new report on 3 October 2023 in collaboration with Emeritus: From Sustainability to Business Strategy: How the Role of the Chief Sustainability Officer Is Evolving to Shape Business Strategies which aims to both clarify the convergence path between impact and business strategies and to support businesses, investors and policy-makers in their decision making.
We see this as the launch pad for an evidence-based conversation about the evolution of the role of business in the transition towards a regenerative and inclusive socio-economic system.
The role of Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) is rapidly evolving. What was once a specialised communication role has become—in the most advanced companies—a position that shapes business strategy. And with this change, companies have realised that their social and environmental impact is more than just a marker of responsibility; it can also be a key competitive differentiating factor. Across product, labour, resources and financial markets, a forward-thinking CSO function contributes to economic and non-economic value creation for all the strategic stakeholders, investing in the company’s financial, human, social and natural capital.
While other reports have studied CSOs’ changing corporate roles, there has been no substantive research on companies’ maturity levels in the integration of corporate sustainability and business strategy. The evolution of this integration significantly influences how companies innovate, grow, differentiate and cooperate.
To do so, this report leverages multiple sources of data: interviews with 37 sustainability executives, mostly in large multinational companies, together with the GOLDEN Sustainability Database, the Leonardo Centre’s dataset of more than 900,000 corporate sustainability initiatives created by over 9,000 public and private companies during the last 20 years.
This report also offers the first model that ranks a company according to its integration of impact and business strategies—Business Impact Maturity (BIM). We define BIM as the set of capabilities, mindsets and behaviours that a company has developed at a given point in time that characterise the relationship between sustainability and business strategy.
This report intends to both clarify the convergence path between impact and business strategies, and to support businesses, investors and policy-makers in their decision making.
We discuss the implication of our findings on a systemic level for investors, NGOs, local communities, and policy makers. The special role of investors and the finance sector as potentially powerful multipliers and drivers of systemic change is highlighted.
But it is also important that corporate strategies in connection with civil society and local communities move beyond pure donations towards a more integrated model that supports, for example, systemic business model innovation processes to generate novel solutions for the environment and communities. This will require evolving mindsets in businesses and investors, as well as innovations and experimentation in policy interventions to identify and scale evidence-based, high-impact, action.
We see this as the launch of an evidence-based conversation about the evolution of the role of business in the transition towards a regenerative and inclusive socio-economic system.