The Earth is resilient. But is your organisation?
The Earth is resilient and will be just fine. But here’s what I ask myself: How resilient are we? Will we as a species continue to thrive in the face of some of the threats we face? What about our institutions — are they built to last?
A new National Climate Assessment written by a team of 300 experts, and issued by the White House on May 7, 2014, stresses in stark terms that we are testing the boundaries of our ecosystem’s resilience. For example, according to the report, sea levels have risen eight inches since 1870 — and we can expect further rises of anywhere from another foot to six feet by the end of this century.
While the geophysical consequences of these and other climate-change effects are potentially catastrophic, I prefer to see climate change as a people issue rather than as an Earth issue. Because safeguarding our collective home requires human choices.
Of course, climate-change resilience is also very much a corporate issue. Environmentally, socially and economically, businesses have a great deal at stake. No matter which aspect you care about most, climate change will likely affect it. The impacts threaten to increase costs of raw materials, cause business disruptions, erode markets for your products, impede overall economic growth and deepen the challenges faced by your staff and customers.
An entire gamut of stakeholders — from investors, regulators and the public, to the Millennial-generation talent we will all need to thrive — are focusing on companies’ carbon emissions, sustainability reporting, and corporate responsibility programmes. They want to know what companies are doing to prepare for potential climate disruption as well as for operating in a carbon-constrained world. And emerging reporting approaches, such as those advanced by the new Sustainability Accounting Standards Board(SASB), are gaining traction among forward-thinking organisations and mainstream investors alike.
Here at PwC, among many other sustainability measures, we’ve launched several highly visible projects with the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) — the latest of which, Tangible Earth, the world’s first interactive digital globe that dynamically represents the real-time action of weather, climate variations, pollutants and other agents on the Earth — will be hosted in our New York offices as a physical reminder of the many environmental forces acting on our planet.
So what is the most resilient and responsible way of handling the looming threats associated with climate change — as well as the four other global megatrends PwC has identified which will profoundly mark our future?
The first step, and one that needs to be repeated at every stage, is to activate your greatest resource — your people. Ask them what they think, where do they see both the risks and opportunities? With their help, you can also engage your other stakeholders — your suppliers, clients and others — in a conversation on climate change and the other megatrends. What do they see coming, what might you be missing — are we all prepared?
The goal of these internal and external dialogues is to help your managers distil the “facts on the ground" from those best placed to address them — and to grasp some of the solutions that bubble up from these conversations.
From introducing process innovations and new products and services that drive social, environmental and economic benefit, to lowering carbon footprints and conserving energy, to enhancing their brand by embracing a responsibility and resilience agenda, businesses have a central role to play in addressing this challenge. And forward-thinking organisations are finding competitive advantage in moving forward vigorously in this direction.
The key is to start with engagement, asking: What is my responsibility, what is our opportunity as an organisation? That is the path to resilience.