What to look for in an ESG officer?

7 February 2024
Mario Matthys Expert Practice Leader CFO Services (Pragmatic Advisory & Implementation) Connect on Linkedin

Who should be in charge of a company’s ESG policy? Hard skills and expertise alone will not suffice in this increasingly important and volatile policy field. In the third blog post of our series on ESG-related topics, CFO Services expert Mario Matthys shares his views on the ideal profile of a company’s ESG officer.

An ultimate profile of an ESG officer does not exist. However, there are some characteristics you should look for in a candidate applying for the role. Sustainability is an evolving policy area with many challenges ahead.

High demand, lower supply

Of course, hard skills such as subject matter knowledge are desirable for the job. But recruiting people with such skills is not easy. According to LinkedIn’s Global Green Skills Report 2022, the number of job postings with sustainability skills grew 8 percent annually from 2015 to 2021, but the number of people with those skills grew just 6 percent annually during that time.

LinkedIn’s most recent Global Green Skills Report (2023) illustrates that, currently, the demand for green jobs matches the supply of people with those skills. However, projections show that in five years time, demand will surpass supply.

Due to the lack of talent and the urgency of the issue, people without a sustainability background are often hired and still require training. According to the Boston Consulting Group “the need is acute, the scale is large, the timeline is tight, the right resources are scarce and the learning curve is steep”. While still important, hard skills and expertise alone are not enough.

Not a one person job

In order to continue their journey towards sustainability, companies must embed skills throughout the entire organization. To achieve their sustainability goals, companies need to blend sustainability in the business as usual. The mindset and skillset of every employee should be broadened. Sustainability is not a one person job; it is one which the whole company should be actively engaged in, ideally with the support of a resilient and empowered ESG officer.

Sustainability is not a one person job; it is one which the whole company should be actively engaged in, ideally with the support of a resilient and empowered ESG officer.

Mario Matthys, ESG reporting expert, CFO Services, TriFinance

It’s all about the mindset

An ESG officer should be driven by passion and a desire to have a positive impact on both the planet and the society. In this sense, they should also inspire others to work towards a positive impact and achieve common sustainability goals. The ESG officer should be able to influence and drive change at all levels of the organization. This mindset is necessary in a policy area such as sustainability, which has grown in importance over the years, but is still often seen by many departments as a burden or obligation, rather than an opportunity. And only when everyone is on board and convinced of the importance of the issue will change be possible.

Because sustainability has only relatively recently come to the forefront and because there is still a lot of work to be done to make it a priority, setbacks are more than likely to occur. ESG is not a short-term and quick-fix business, so the officer should be resilient in order to drive change management.

Cross-departmental issue requires cross-departmental approach

As mentioned in my previous blog post, sustainability is a cross-departmental issue. The person in charge of a company's ESG policy should therefore ideally know the company inside out. They should know where to find the necessary information, who to contact, what the company is capable of, what it lacks and where it can improve in terms of sustainability. The ESG officer will need to navigate through different cultural, political and ethical perspectives while keeping the common sustainability goals in mind.

Since ESG is an issue that concerns and affects all departments, all employers and all parts in the value chain, the ESG officer should be able to communicate well and build relationships with all stakeholders. They should thus be able to alter their communication approach depending on the stakeholder they are addressing. As a result, the ESG officer should also be a quick learner, able to adapt and anticipate to the latest trends and the needs of the company, society and the planet. They should learn from best practices and continuously apply them to become more efficient and effective.