Date: Thursday, February 9, 

Time: 12pm – 1pm ET

The 21st century saw the rise of the Chief Sustainability Officer, representing the promotion to the C-suite of the responsibility of companies to promote social and environmental sustainability. By 2014, 90 S&P 500 companies had institutionalized the role with increasingly large departments; in 2020 more first-time CSOs were hired by Fortune 500 companies than in the three prior years combined. In this period, the CSO has emerged from within a variety of corporate functions—legal, public relations, and operations, among others. The conception of the role has also shifted—over the last year, for example, ESG has faced significant backlash that is impacting the role and discourse over the role. 

In this webinar event, coinciding with the exciting launch in April 2023 of GCNYC’s innovative new course on the CSO as part of our M.S. in Business for Social Impact and Sustainability, we will explore how the role and responsibilities of the CSO have changed and adapted to growing awareness of the urgency of sustainability in business in conversation with corporate leaders from the fashion and financial industries along with other changes in business, law, culture, and the ecosystem. What have been the successes and challenges of companies that add the CSO role? What are the trade-offs of situating the CSO in different parts of the organization? How do the imperatives of the CSO vary across industries?


Marcela Manubens is global senior business executive with over 25 years of experience and demonstrated success in developing and leading sustainable business with an integrated triple bottom line approach. A world class leader on sustainability, human rights and social impact with primary international business and financial expertise, Marcela joined Unilever in 2013 and led the creation of its social sustainability strategy and global goals resulting in the expansion of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP), incorporating Enhancing Livelihoods three pillars: fairness in the workplace, opportunities for women and inclusive business models. 

Most recently with Unilever, she led strategy for the new Social Ambitions 2030, building on the strong USLP foundation, specifically, “Raising Living Standards” and “Opportunities through Inclusivity” and created the human rights policy framework and the Responsible Sourcing Policy mainstreaming sustainability as well as transparency efforts by publishing Unilever’s first Human Rights report under the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights Reporting Framework promoting disclosure and influencing peer companies. Marcela is currently a member of the Responsible Investment and Business Advisory Group at Sierra Global Management; member of World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Human Rights 2020-22; member of the Advisory Board of the Geneva Center for Business and Human Rights – Geneva School of Economics and Management and former member of the Human Rights Advisory Group to UK Foreign Secretary and the Integrity Board of the food company Sir Kensington.

Prior to Unilever, Marcela led the vision, strategy, and implementation of one of the first Global Human Rights and Corporate Responsibility programs in the fashion industry, including environmental stewardship and social impact, at PVH Corp in early 90s. Marcela will be teaching GCNYC’s new course on the CSO, and in addition is Lecturer of Business and Human Rights at University of Bergen, Norway, and previously taught at business and human rights at Columbia University and macroeconomics at Universidad de Belgrano, Argentina.

Karyn Polak most recently served as Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary for Transamerica Corporation, Chair of the Aegon Transamerica Foundation, and Board member of the Transamerica Retirement Institute. Karyn has served as a senior counsel, trusted advisor, and C-suite executive in her various roles in the investment banking, private banking, brokerage, asset management, insurance, and retirement businesses at Citigroup, PNC Bank, and Transamerica. She also has over a decade of experience in corporate finance, securities, and M&A at three AmLaw 100 law firms, advising global financial institutions and multinational corporations. With PNC Bank, Karyn built the foundations within the bank for the creation of its first Chief Responsibility Officer.

Throughout her career, Karyn has been actively engaged in local and national civic organizations and industry groups reflecting her core values of inclusion, equality, ethics, and service. She is currently serving on the board of the Legal Accountability Project (NY), on the Programming Committee of ImpactPHL (Philadelphia), as a mentor for InnovationWorks (Baltimore), and on the Commission on Financing a Public Benefit Biotech Industry (CA). She served on the Greater Baltimore Committee, the Greater Philadelphia Economy League, and the Board of Philabundance. She also served as co-chair of the Leadership Advisory Committee for the National Women’s Law Center and as a member of the National Association of Corporate Directors, DirectWomen, and the Advisory Board of DiversityLab. She is a seasoned speaker and community advocate, having presented on financial and legal industry matters; corporate governance, leadership development and talent management; and diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

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