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Who will lead on climate change? Businesses!

For many years now more than 90% of scientists and scientific organizations have supported the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) consensus that the global warming of the past 100+ years is caused by human activities that emit greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere. The strengthening scientific consensus on the causes of global warming, the accumulating negative impacts from an already changing climate in many regions, and the improved models to forecast dire climate change and sea-level rise in the not-so-distant future, have all contributed to the international community hitting a new high in its level of consensus in 2016. That consensus is embodied in two collaborative, binding agreements – The Paris Climate Agreement and the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol – to limit emission of specific green house gases (GHGs), with the goal of reducing future warming and limiting climate change.

The Paris Climate Agreement binds 194 countries to substantially reduce GHG emissions.  The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol limits industrial use of HFCs (a replacement for ozone-destroying CFCs, which were subsequently determined to be powerful greenhouse gases). Both agreements are important milestones. However, leadership is needed for the hard decisions and challenging work required to realize the goals of these agreements.

Where will the critical leadership come from?  The United States has elected as president a businessman who does not believe that humans are the primary cause of climate change or that business can thrive in the context of extensive government regulation.  The President has named individuals to head the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency who share these beliefs. It is unlikely that the federal government will lead the way in climate change mitigation during this administration.

With an emphasis on business development and job growth, it will be business leadership that propels the United States towards meeting the goals of Paris and Kigali. The March 2016 edition of Climate Change and the American Mind, reports on recent national surveys done by the Yale University Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC).  While 70% of Americans surveyed believe that climate change is occurring now (the highest percentage since the YPCCC began surveying in 2008), only 53% believe that global warming is human-caused, and only 11% believe that a majority of scientists support the consensus view. This lack of understanding or trust in the science and the overwhelming support of the scientific community for the consensus view is also supported by recent Pew Research Center survey. Interestingly, the YPCCC survey reveals that the majority of Americans are looking to corporations and industry for solutions to the problems of mitigating greenhouse gases and adaptation to climate change (see image below).

Image courtesy of Yale Program on Climate Change and Communication

Fortunately, there are many resources available to guide businesses as they develop and grow their leadership in this area. The YPCCC at Yale University provides a variety of resources to help fulfill a goal of more effective communication with stakeholders. Their approach emphasizes establishing a better understanding of the context within which the prevailing beliefs of stakeholders emerges and then designing communication, education, and action plans around several key messages that will resonate with the intended audience.  Aligning a path forward with the deep support and participation of stakeholders furthers business goals.

The other resources businesses need to lead on this and other sustainability issues are those that provide insight into the myriad ways that climate change will affect businesses. The physical impacts are fairly obvious: more frequent and severe storms, a longer, more powerful wildfire season, rising sea levels, an increase in vector based diseases as the climate warms, to name a few.  But there are also many indirect impacts as well, such a supply chain disruptions and population dislocations.

Sustrana has comprehensive education and powerful tools to help businesses understand and assess these types of risks and build an effective sustainability plan. The Issue Value Assessor (IVA) provides a wealth of potential issues (related to climate change and many other business model, environmental, social, and governance topics), and allows you to add issues unique to your business as well.  For each issue, IVA will guide you and your colleagues to assess and document the risks and opportunities associated with an issue.  IVA also facilitates the evaluation of the value drivers, impacts, and strategies related to an issue. You can choose the criteria you want to use, such as how well a focus on an issue will support overall business and sustainability goals and how feasible it is to work on a particular issue.

Ultimately, the process that IVA takes you through will generate a list of ranked issues that will aid the development of a strategic sustainability plan. Sustrana’s online platform provides a collaborative environment to facilitate the work and create a plan for leadership in economic growth as well as environmental and social stewardship. And this is how Sustrana is helping other businesses lead the way in considering and addressing this generation’s greatest challenge: climate change.

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