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First-ever Certified Chief Sustainability Officers in the Netherlands are ready to lead the change

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Redactie Outvie

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Sustainability is everywhere! But how can sustainability professionals help incorporate ESG in all parts of their organisations and gain genuine traction in the boardroom? That is just one of the many questions which arose during the first-ever training programme for Certified Chief Sustainability Officer. During the official certification ceremony in Amsterdam course designers, students and lecturers reflected on a tough eight days of immersive training which saw 12 brand new CCSOs receive their hard-earned qualifications.

 

Integrating sustainability in the boardroom and beyond

To future-proof success, innovation and growth, all today’s organisations must fully embrace sustainability. That commitment should be woven into core values and be integrated at all levels of the workforce — from employees to the boardroom, and among all stakeholders. That is so much easier in theory than in practice!

 

This new CCSO certification is the first of its kind in the Netherlands and was launched by Amsterdam-based knowledge and network provider Outvie. During the ceremony the course designers, lecturers and newly certified CSOs reflected on the challenges and looked into the future of their respective roles. “Today, sustainability is on every management board’s agenda,” explains Outvie Managing Director Ermelinda Vermeulen. “This topic is so important for the future. Our main goal is developing people, increasing knowledge, networks and skills. We contribute to the expertise, innovation, and positive progress of organisations through this new CCSO training programme.” “Soon, organisations will not be able to survive without fully incorporating sustainability,” says Carola Wijdoogen. Wijdoogen is Senior Lecturer for the recently completed Certified Chief Sustainability Officer certification course, she is also author of the Dutch-language book “Seven Roles for Sustainable Success”.

 

Sustainability is indeed fast becoming a license to operate: “Many organisations are only sustainable in terms of compliance or risk-reduction, primarily aiming to reduce costs,” explains Wijdoogen. “However, there are other organisations which use sustainability as a strategic driver for innovation. And then there are companies which are really thinking ahead and using sustainability as a driver for new business models. These players know that if they don’t add value to society, they will not be in business in future.”

Creating impact

Most organisations are currently transitioning towards embedding more sustainability, be they stock-exchange-listed companies preparing for the wave of CSRD reporting obligations, or smaller players looking carefully at their processes and business models in order to create more impact.
“I used to run a restaurant and was shocked at how much food was wasted,” explains Junion Hanenberg. “Then I looked into the food production business and discovered that even more food was being wasted there!

 

I set up IntelligentFood a company which combats food waste through circular means.” Hanenburg is also guest lecturer for the Certified Chief Sustainability Officer programme, and author of the book Circular in Food. “Sustainability is key in all sectors, if you want your business to survive,” he says. “Not only are many raw materials finite, but customers and potential employees demand sustainable practices, and laws are also changing in their favour, so holders of a Chief Sustainability Officer qualification are well-positioned to become agents for change in their organisations.”

 

One of the main challenges facing these agents for change is how to get sustainability higher on the list of boardroom corporate priorities. “Sustainability must be represented in every boardroom,” says Marjolein Baghuis, Sustainability Strategy Consultant at Catalyst for Positive Change and lecturer on the CCSO training course. “We are not there yet,” she adds. “But today’s stakeholders are demanding more from organisations on sustainability. At the same time, people on the talent market are walking away if organisations aren’t working on sustainability.”

Certified Chief Sustainability officer - uitreiking Outvie training

Waking up the C-suite

The title Certified Chief Sustainability Officers might imply a C-Suite position, yet it’s obviously aspirational. Having said that, a growing cohort of younger senior executives feels a hightened sense of urgency on the subject.

 

“While this qualification is for Certified Chief Sustainability Officer, this does not necessarily mean you need to hold that position,” says Albert van Vliet, Head of Operational Risk at Rabobank, and member of the CCSO student cohort. “But if you know how it works, you can use the knowledge to fulfil your own role. The way of thinking which I use in my work for operational risk has many similarities with Corporate Sustainability. You need to influence, persuade people, and pick their brains. You don’t necessarily need to have all the knowledge but be able to know where to get it from.”

 

“Sustainability concerns physical, market and credit risk, business continuity, the whole value chain, labour practices and innovation,” explains Gerrit Jan van den Brink. “ESG is everywhere!” Van den Brink is a university lecturer on risk, insurance and ESG and a lecturer for the CCSO course. “To put it bluntly, if we humans continue in the way we are at the moment, we may not survive. The planet will always survive, but we may not,” he warns. “We have to act, together with organisations. Sustainability needs ambassadorship. And CCSOs are able to take that role based on their expertise. Senior executives would to well to use them as a valuable resource.”

A sense of urgency

The pioneer group of 12 students on the intensive eight-day CCSO course came from a wide range of disciplines: from large corporate organisations, to independent consultancies. All were clearly united by a drive to explore, create impact and put their new knowledge into practice. “It was strangely motivating to learn that nobody knows exactly what the way forward is within this very new field of work,” says course graduate Cleo Diesveld, who is a Sustainability Strategy Consultant for SMEs. “My key takeaway was ‘just do it’ and find solutions to sustainability challenges along the way. The practical case studies in this curriculum were most inspiring.”

 

“It is key to create a sense of urgency in the workplace,” says fellow CCSO Luc Golsteijn, Real Estate Lawyer at Boels Zanders Advocaten. “Know what you know, but also know what you don’t know. Sustainability is also a major issue for many of my clients. I have to advise them on not only talking the talk, but recommend they also walk the walk.”

 

The entire concept of ‘sustainability officer or department’ should be unnecessary, says Marianne van Keep, course lecturer and Chief Sustainability Officer at Verstegen Spices & Sauces in Rotterdam. “Sustainability should be integrated across all departments,” she says. “However, up until that time, the CSO is vital in order to be able to lead the way on sustainability and translate the latest developments from wider society into the internal organisation.”

 

The wide-ranging aspect of this training course allowed students to broaden their thinking on the subject of sustainability. “The diversity of the challenge was an eye-opener for me,” says Taco van Iersel, Manager Sustainability and Energy Management at Schiphol Infrastructure. “This course illustrates how complex the subject is. In my work I contribute to the circular transition and the energy transition initiatives within Schiphol Infrastructure. This course provides clear foundations for my professional role and broadened my vocabulary and way of thinking about sustainability in general.”

Sustainability creates value

Organisations should not forget that sustainability adds value, explains Barry Baggermans, Senior Risk Manager at Achmea Interne Diensten. “The key insight for me during this training course was that there are multiple ways to create value, other than only financial value,” he explains. Jeroen de Jong agrees: “I was inspired by the Value Creation Model,” he says. De Jong is Risk and Compliance Manager at Swiss Pharmaceuticals company Carbogen Amcis. “This new knowledge inspired me to connect on sustainability with a much wider group within my organisation such as sales, marketing and research and development. I have broadened my horizon beyond risk and aim to function within my organisation as the link between a wide range of departments on sustainability.”

 

The extensive reach of sustainability topics within an organisation require sustainability professionals to reach out and engage with numerous stakeholders. “Sustainability plays a huge role in our business sector,” says CCSO Piet Steenis, Sustainability Manager at consumer electronics company ElectronicPartner Nederland. “It is essential to involve stakeholders as soon as possible. You can only achieve sustainability goals by working together. That is easier said than done. This training course provided me with a clear roadmap on how to achieve my company’s sustainability goals.”

 

Esther Egeter, Sustainability Manager Schade at insurer ASR agrees. “I was very inspired by Carola Wijdoogen’s book, and I was able to reflect on my position within our organisation and formulate clear goals for myself and my role. It was extremely valuable. As was the contact with fellow students: this network is alive and very valuable,” says Esther.

Hands-on training

The CCSO training is very practial: “This study programme is hands-on and enables those reponsible for sustainability to take the subject further within their organisations,” says Outvie Product Director Mirela Mellone. “It is the only course in the Netherlands which provides sustainability training at this level.”

 

Anne Marie de Beaufort, Sustainability Officer for the national science funding body Dutch Research Council NWO, found that the course provided a useful blueprint in order for her to “stick to the core of sustainability and translate it into different levels within our organisation in order to make a change from within the organisation, but outside as well.” Insurance industry consultant Nienke ten Bruggecate concurs: “I have been discussing governance topics the associated sustainability regulations with my clients for some time. The broader view of sustainability and which I gained during the CCSO course helped pull the wider sustainability context into focus for me.”

 

Paving the way forward

The diverse backgrounds of the newly certified CCSOs means that each individual has very different answers to the question: how can I create impact in order to pave a sustainable way forward? All the students gained a wider perspective on sustainability from which they can create their own narratives, for their own contexts within their own organisations. Being pioneer CCSOs, they will to use their new knowledge to collectively make a difference. These new insights will empower them to confidently lead the change towards a more sustainable tomorrow. Let’s hope their bright future impacts ours!

Collage Outvie ceremony CCSO

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