CEO Chief Environmental Officer—A New Title for an Old Corporate Concern

By Staff Report

Sep. 15, 2006

Titles for what essentially are the largest companies’ chief environmental officers are anything but standardized today. But that mishmash won’t last long.

A specialist who studies job titles and compensation says he expects uniformity will reign within the next five years.

“When a new position is in its infancy the titles are all over the board,” says Jason Kovac of Scottsdale, Arizona-based WorldatWork, a global nonprofit professional association for human resources professionals. “You’ll see alignment of these job titles within certain industries first, then within companies.”

He wouldn’t be surprised if Home Depot eventually incorporates the terms “sustainable,” “corporate responsibility” or “environmental affairs” into a job now handled by the vice president of merchandising, lumber.

Kovac compares this eventual evolution on the environmental front to the brief history of the chief information officer. What’s now often included as part of the C-suite had its humble beginnings in the information technology boom of the 1990s. Once the title was elevated within high-tech companies, it began spreading into other industries.

New positions with potential heft often begin at the manager level. As new responsibilities are added, the name morphs into director, then vice president, and then senior vice president before reaching the hierarchical pinnacle of a specialty title.

“Titles give people instant credibility,” Kovac says. “They let people outside of the organization know that what they have to say is important.”

Among the 25 largest U.S. companies, 15 of the environmental head honchos are vice presidents, six are directors and five don’t staff that position. Women seem to have found a gap in the glass ceiling as they fill nine of the chief environmental positions.

Kovac recommends that companies stay far away from the plethora of goofball titles, like “minister of progress,” that bubbled up in the 1990s at dot-com startups. So, companies should junk any ideas about appointing a “minister of clean” or “doctor of green.”

“That’s absolutely the wrong direction to take,” Kovac says. “As soon as that title comes out of your mouth, you couldn’t be taken seriously.”

Elizabeth McGowan
McGowan is a correspondent for Waste News, a sister publication of Workforce Management.

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