Who manages the sustainable development of companies?

This article is available in Bulgarian.

#6 | 43% of companies in the world are looking for ways to synchronize their Corporate Social Responsibility activities with the goals of their organization

Klimentina Rasheva, managing partner, denkstatt Bulgaria

We often come to the following question together with our partners and clients: who should be engaged with the sustainable development of the company, in what department and what responsibilities should they have? In most cases in Bulgaria, the people who deal with sustainable business development are managers and experts in corporate communications. The increased number of employees who take on the roles of Corporate Social responsibility managers, specialists and sustainability managers/directors is notable.  

These positions are often placed into various company departments or created as stand-alone functions, but sustainability positions are very rarely given to people who deal with business development. This is unfortunate because that is exactly where those positions belong, as I will later show. The technical aspects of sustainable business development (environmental management, management systems, health and safety, data optimization and management processes) are usually taken care of by ecologists or quality assurance managers and experts.    

For comparison, here are some of the positions that are found around the world: Sustainability Compliance Leader, Environmental Specialist/ Manager, Sustainability Manager; Senior Analyst, Climate Policy; Technical Program Manager, Sustainability; Sustainability Design Coordinator, Chief sustainability officer; Director of sustainability; Sustainability project manager; Senior environmental programs specialist; Supply chain manager, sustainability and energy; Director of sustainable manufacturing innovation; Sustainability coordinator; Vice president of corporate social responsibility and sustainability; Director of global environmental affairs.

What tasks are the specialists who don’t deal with the technical aspects of sustainability responsible for? Generally, their tasks are related to Corporate Social Responsibility. Usually the tasks are carried out through projects that bring good publicity and visibility to the companies because they tackle social problems. The predominant practice is to choose projects on the basis of what value they could bring to the company and the community. By putting their trust in experts on corporate identity and communications, companies are clearly showing that they see a link between their sustainability and their reputation.     

The people who manage the technical aspects of sustainable development are often busy dealing with regulatory questions related to environment, energy and waste management, health and safety and fulfilling specific requirements from their mother companies.     


Very few companies put in a serious effort to establish integrity between the themes they deem as important for their reputation and the way in which they manage their businesses in accordance to their values. This approach is appropriate from the point of view of meeting the regulatory reporting requirements pertaining to Corporate Responsibility and sustainable development. These requirements are becoming increasingly common in Bulgaria and they are often supported by organizational capacity building and the creation of processes for determining, understanding and managing the themes that are deemed important for the companies and their stakeholders. To do this, they integrate the work of specialists in communications with the work of specialists dealing with technical aspects, thereby spreading out the work beyond a single department – which is good.

Globally 43% of companies are looking for ways to synchronize their sustainability work with their wider business goals, missions, visions and values, compared to only 30% during the prior year.

The themes that Bulgarian companies are engaged with outside of the quality of their products and services are related to social and natural capital. Investing in the development of human capital is not something new but lately these investments have taken on a new meaning for the sustainable development of businesses. Recently a large company shared an interesting insight with me. They realized that their social and community initiatives cannot precede the initiatives related to the people of the company itself, which is very logical. We believe that if we can’t take care of ourselves and our employees, then we can’t take care of the world. With this understanding, the sustainable development of businesses is increasingly encompassing the good management of businesses, which clearly shows the that these apparently different tasks are actually one. The responsibility of this task can’t be given to a single person in the company, even if he or she is an environmental or communications specialist. The task requires joint planning, follow-up and analysis by a diverse group of specialists.       

Business development manager

We already spoke about the instruments and processes that can help us to achieve integration – it involves creating a matrix of the significant themes relevant to the company and its stakeholders. Once again these are the best tools for finding the employees that are managing aspects of the sustainable development of companies. However, it is very important that one person carries the responsibility for integrating the two aspects. This is the ideal role of the business development manager – as a driver of the processes connected to the planning, monitoring and analysis of the results of the management of themes and interrelations between the company and its stakeholders.

Achieving business sustainability is a consequence of following appropriate policies and programs and it is based on indicators that show the progression of long-term goals that are connected with the significant themes of the business. This is the case “by definition”. It comes down to effective business management that takes note of the particular dynamics and context of every situation. Corporate Social Responsibility is one aspect of this, but it is not the whole. This is why sustainable business development should be assigned to people who are in higher positions of power – people who have a higher view of the company and are able to guide its direction of development. The greater emphasis given to positions that deal with sustainable development allows professionals in those positions to more effectively integrate their efforts .         

The text was published in the 25/2018 edition of the Economist.

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