Last week, more than 11,000 scientists signed their name to a statement declaring a climate emergency and warning of “untold suffering due to the climate crisis.” The declaration calls for governments, institutions, and individuals to take drastic steps to slow the rapidly accelerating pace of the climate crisis. This comes on the heels of weeks of climate protests around the globe and the near constant stream of new scientific reports warning that “it’s worse than we thought.”
After years of inaction and too much credence given to climate change denialists, there is finally a palpable sense of urgency that, yes, something must be done, and we all have a role to play.* This is a positive development, and we’re genuinely thrilled when large enterprises make a commitment to sustainability (today, 86% of the S&P 500 issue sustainability reports). However, what concerns us after talking to many large enterprises and even some of the largest consultancies in the world is that they fail to make a distinction between climate sustainability and climate adaptation plans.
- Sustainability consists of the strategies and actions your enterprise takes to reduce its carbon footprint and consumption of the planet’s resources so that it is not sacrificing the health and happiness of future generations to meet its own needs today. This is where most enterprises have focused their efforts, as can be seen (even in the US) with the 2,000-plus American businesses and investors that have committed to the Paris Agreement with the “We Are Still In” declaration. Businesses are moving past the idealistic environmentalist stereotypes that once characterized sustainability initiatives to talk about it in terms of financial impact and business risk. As the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, warned, “Companies and industries that are not moving towards zero-carbon emissions will be punished by investors and go bankrupt.” So while we’re pleased with what enterprises have accomplished to date, there is still so much more that can be done to mitigate climate change, especially with the affordability of wind and solar power today and innovative technologies such as algae bioreactors for carbon capture (Hypergiant Industries just announced its algae bioreactor, the Eos Bioreactor).
- Adaptation consists of the strategies and actions your enterprise takes to adjust to and mitigate the risks of climate change on the organization’s ability to deliver on its mission. Too often, people assume the impact of climate change is still decades away. The unfortunate reality is that, from the increasing frequency of droughts, wildfires, and other extreme weather to rising temperatures and sea levels, the climate crisis is already here. These changes affect everything from the location of your key facilities to your ability to source materials and ingredients for your products to the ability of your employees to work outside or even come to work at all. Adaptation is like business continuity (BC) planning but with a much longer horizon and bigger web of interconnected factors. Like BC planning, you need to carry out a business impact analysis, conduct a detailed risk assessment, and then develop detailed mitigation strategies and adaptation plans that cities such as Boston, London, and Rotterdam have done, as well as a handful of companies in critical infrastructure. As the recent wildfires in California have highlighted, it’s particularly distressing to see how few hospitals are ready for climate change.
We’ve written on the need for climate adaptation planning, but in the following months, we’ll be researching some of the solutions and technologies that can help enterprises tackle the difficult task of identifying and modeling the cascading impacts that climate risks will have on your organization today and into the future, plus the new sources of intelligence that you’ll need to continuously monitor, adapt, and respond to these risks as they evolve over time.
Sustainability does matter; enterprises just need to understand the difference between the two. So we’ll also research the solutions and technologies for sustainability, but this won’t be about basic office recycling programs — we’re going to focus on the solutions that are the most innovative and have the most dramatic impact on carbon footprint and resource consumption; think algae bioreactors (our example from above) and immersion cooling for data centers.
Our two reports will feature dozens of technologies in each. If you have one that you think is critical for us to consider, please let us know!
*Dear New York Times, if you could stop allowing climate change denialists to post op-ed pieces riddled with logical fallacies and spurious arguments in some misguided desire to “present all sides,” that would be great for humanity.