5 innovative ways companies can tackle climate change

With nations around the world largely failing to take the kind of action needed to head off dangerous climate change, it is becoming clearer that the dilemma will require innovation from all players, including governments, companies and academia.

Ann Dale and Rob Newell of Royal Roads University have studied actions of local governments as part of their project, Meeting the Climate Challenge (MC3). These valuable lessons, they say, also can be applied to for-profit businesses.

"Our findings show that opportunities exist for communities to develop in innovative, collaborative and sustainable ways, and these opportunities extend to all organizations," Newell says.

Here they provide five tips to help any company seeking innovative ways to address climate change.

1. A picture is worth a thousand words

To communicate climate change impacts, go beyond numbers and charts. Instead, use visualization -- images of impacts -- to show staff and other stakeholders how climate change will affect specific areas or resources.

"When people can see the effects, it engages both the heart and the mind and leads to action," says Dale.

Visualization often shows a geographical area with climate impacts superimposed. Companies near water can look at how sea level rise will affect them, including illustrations that show the effects on U.S. coastlines. Natural resource companies can anticipate effects of disease or fire, such as the effects on forestry in British Columbia.

Public resources are increasingly available; you also may want to partner with a local university and have them develop useful images for you.

2. Focus on multiplying your impact

Sustainability managers sometimes focus on advancing specific initiatives. But they're more effective if they act as facilitators by building bridges to other departments and sharing expertise that helps solve problems. In the recent study, "organizations where the sustainability coordinator has more of the facilitator role were much farther advanced," says Dale.

For example, sustainability managers might help build a business case for climate change action that their colleagues could use, or compile environmental resources.

3. Innovation requires collaboration

"You have innovation among teams of people, not individuals," says Dale.

No single expert, company or even sector has all the solutions for climate change. New solutions emerge when multiple perspectives combine. Within companies, connections across departments spur innovation. Look outside the company as well by talking with researchers, policymakers and peers at other companies.

That collaboration can be virtual, making it very cost-effective.

4. The home team matters

Employees have valuable ideas. Access them through tried-and-true efforts such as a suggestion box. Paying attention to employees' suggestions can improve their work performance as well.

"Employees are motivated by the opportunity for autonomy and innovation," says Newell. This is especially true in high-level, cognitive work.

You also can build momentum by letting cost savings from a project remain in the unit that led the project. The unit then can use the savings to power its next climate innovation effort.

5. Win-win opportunities are real

The research found that energy efficiency and waste reduction actions reduce operating costs.

"Environmental action isn't just a luxury that can be enjoyed if the funds are available," says Newell. "Operating in an environmentally friendly fashion can open up new avenues for running businesses in a cost-effective way."

For example, in organizations studied, hiring an energy manager led to net positive funds as a result of the cost savings the person produced.

Reprinted from Network for Business Sustainability.

Smokestack image by Lisa S. via Shutterstock.