2.Build coalitions around your chief sustainability officer
The number of CSOs across Fortune 500 companies has grown more than 228% since 2011, according to the Weinreb Group, a CSO recruiting and research firm. The role is critical and the work involved includes meeting the challenges of keeping up with the pace of science to decarbonize, and measuring the real impact on biospheres, natural ecosystems, and societies.
In the same way that digital transformation is less successful if only the chief digital officer is accountable, chief sustainability officers will not create the right impact, especially in terms of reimagining luxury business models, if they stand alone. Luxury brands’ interests remain too vested in business operations as it is, and if the CSO operates in a silo this won’t change.
Luxury brand leaders will need to embed accountability for change across functions and operations, in tight collaboration with the CSO. At Chloé, for instance, the CSO is not only actively supported by the CEO but also by the Creative Director, Gabriela Hearst.
Sustainability transformation begins at the design table and Hearst pushes her design team with her “what ifs?” approach: for instance, “What if we could replace cotton altogether?” She has even declared that constraints on sourcing positive-impact materials make her more creative.
Chanel took a similar approach. Its CSO collaborated with the chief financial officer, whose green-bond commitments in 2020 became the Trojan horse that forced everyone to make a proper plan, achieve ESG results, and be held accountable. Mission 1.5⁰, which is in line with the targets of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, became the new purpose of the company. Chanel’s CFO was essential in its definition.
Naturally, to make changes stick, all employees from top to bottom should have their compensation linked to the delivery of sustainability goals. And yet, this is rarely the case. Chloé is an exception to the norm; incentives are adapted to function and some employees are rewarded according to their social engagement.