Leadership Guidance Concerning the Future of Climate
by Bob Leonard and David Ross
Last year, the IPCC warned that we have until 2030 to take meaningful action to avoid the worst consequences of our climate crisis. We have the technologies and the knowledge to address this crisis. We can’t nullify it… it’s too late for that. But we can mitigate the worst effects and adapt to the effects we can’t mitigate.
Nobody can predict the future, especially in this uncertain time of exponential change, but there are trends that we can use to confidently anticipate what lies before us. We can develop potential futures and attach probabilities. Our climate crisis is a hard trend. We are not going to list all of the scientific evidence, or the numerous manifestations we see in the news (or experience personally). You are aware of them.
Climate is a jaw droppingly complex and highly interconnected global system. It is a wicked problem. We are not going to “solve” it… but we may be able to tame it, if we use a long term thinking approach. So let’s take a look at 2030 as our time horizon, and examine how organizations can prepare for the coming climate threats and opportunities.
Our climate crisis is the most pertinent example (among many) of the need for long term thinking and short term action. Addressing our climate crisis requires mitigation, adaptation and the redesign of everything for a zero carbon economy. Products will be designed from the ground up to be used over and over… repaired when broken or worn. When they must be replaced, the component parts are designed to be fed back into the production cycle.
Mitigation works to prevent the worst effects of our climate crisis. Adaptation works to manage the climate risks that an organization is facing, or will undoubtedly face in the near future. Redesign delivers a wealth of opportunities to leverage imagination and creativity to do things in different ways… ways that increase the well-being of people and Nature and, yes, organizational prosperity.
There could be an economic boom like we haven’t seen since World War II… but with no major wars. For the first time in history, we now have access to every other human via smart phones, social media and automatic translating software. Innovations will spread like wild fire.
Limiting the worst effects of our climate crisis requires global cooperation between organizations of all types and a critical mass of the humans on board Spaceship Earth. We must:
- Quickly and drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions,
- Drawdown CO2 currently in the atmosphere (via both natural and technological means),
- Adapt to our changing conditions,
- And create the human, economic and political will to successfully take those three huge steps.
CO2 remains resident in the atmosphere for decades. Emitting any amount of CO2 adds to the accumulation. The more CO2, the more warming. Every organization should be doing all it can to reduce emissions. You should be looking at your supply chains, your manufacturing processes, your products, your packaging and your distribution channels. Where can you lower emissions? Designing and delivering low or no emission products is a massive opportunity. As average consumers become aware of the severity of the situation, they are increasingly searching out companies who are making a concerted effort to reduce their emissions.
We are currently experiencing the effects of a 1.2 degree Celsius increase in temperature. By 2030, we will reach at least 1.5 degrees of warming and the severe weather, sea level rise, wild fires etc. will be even more intense. If they haven’t already, our collective flight or fight instincts will kick in. We are not designed to react to a potential threat at a distance (either geographic or in time). We are designed to take action when a threat is clearly recognizable and imminent. By 2030, every person on Earth will be well aware of the clear and present danger. We will take action. Governments will pass draconian regulations. Every facet of our modern lives will be impacted by the climate AND by the global efforts to survive it.
There’s no market differentiation in complying to mandates. By taking action now, your organization can reap marketplace benefits (as well as help to avoid catastrophe).
Adaptation is making the necessary changes to minimize the risks your company faces from our climate crisis. Each organization is unique and will face its own distinctive risks. Does it have facilities close to an ocean shore where they will be vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surge? Does it use significant amounts of water in its manufacturing plant in a location that is experiencing longer, deeper and more frequent droughts? Does it have operations in an area susceptible to business disruption due to forest fires?
Companies can draw on a variety of risk management tools to enhance their physical, operational, and financial resilience. Enhanced business continuity planning (supply chain analyses and operational recovery strategies) can maximize operational resilience. Organizations can map infrastructure vulnerabilities to natural hazards, and identify climate risks with respect to location, facility and asset. Controls might involve something as simple as building a seawall, or as disruptive as moving operations to another geography.
Companies that create products or services that drawdown CO2 will be hugely successful. The field is wide open now, and the scale of the effort needed is mind boggling. There is room for all types of players. Explore how your company might contribute to that effort. What skills, talents or technologies does it possess that might be repurposed?
Drawing down resident CO2 is an opportunity to get creative either via research and development to deploy relevant technologies, or by launching a corporate-wide effort to draw down CO2 using natural methods. One idea is to grow green plants on the exterior walls of company buildings, and plant vegetable gardens on the roofs.
Imagine if employees were encouraged to tend vegetables on the roof of their place of work, and to take them home, or distribute them to local food pantries. That would spread the news that Company XYZ is a good place to work, a terrific corporate citizen, and is taking meaningful action to address our climate crisis.
Leverage Diversity of Skills, Talents, Experiences and Perspectives
In these situations, it is easy to be blinkered in our thinking and focus on how “we” (the leadership team) and only “we” can take the steps to manage the risks that we face. Our climate crisis is a significant global issue that affects everyone. Your key stakeholders have likely been thinking about it. That’s a rich reservoir of ideas that can be tapped to develop innovative climate risk solutions.
Traditional companies often become brittle and lose the flexibility they need to survive in a VUCA world. There are significant opportunities for companies to co-create adaptation solutions with their suppliers, their customers, academia or even NGOs. Co-creation helps in developing systemic solutions that avoid unintended consequences. The diverse viewpoints, priorities and experiences of a variety of stakeholders aids in the creation of elegant strategies. Through pooling expertise from within your ecosystem, and tackling the issue from different perspectives, truly innovative products and services can be developed… resulting in competitive advantage.
All the above strategies and tactics help to make the situation real in the eyes of the public. When they see a sea wall being built, or a vegetable garden being planted on the roof of an office building, or a new drawdown technology being launched, or a request for climate-related insurance coverage, or PR releases concerning low emission products, they understand that action is being taken to meet the challenges of our climate crisis. They understand that s**t just got real. And, in turn, they will act accordingly in their personal lives, and they will demand action from governments.
Imagine a life that is quieter. Electric engines run silently. No rush hour traffic jams. Aided by technology, most people can work from wherever they wish. There are driverless electric taxis roaming 22 hours per day (while not recharging), so there are many fewer cars on the roads. Bicycle lanes and walking trails have proliferated (and they’re used). Stress has been greatly reduced – because we spend more time working in and enjoying nature. We walk more and bike more. All of this results in better overall health (stronger immune systems) and a more closely knit social fabric.
Most people recognize that our climate situation is deadly serious, and many realize it’s a choice, not a foreordained destiny. If we have the means to choose our future, why are we on the path to a disastrous one?