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By now nearly everyone has read, re-read and shared at least one key finding of the 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, released last week. The report’s conclusions, while not unexpected, are stated starkly and for the first time, leave absolutely no doubt that we are unequivocally headed into a decade of now or never efforts. I won’t summarize those here — there are plenty of good analyses out there to pick from — but I did want to use this column to recognize the moment we are in.
I know for many fellow business leaders this report will provoke introspective conversations — partly philosophical but also, hopefully, pragmatic ones. What changes? What stays? What does it mean to truly align your business with a changing climate? So, here are a few thoughts as you do begin that conversation:
- Set your alarm for 2030. The next 10 years will define the future for generations to come. For many businesses who have done the hard work to set science-based targets to reduce and eliminate their carbon emissions, the IPCC report’s new temperature rise scenarios means we must continue to move fast and stay the course. For those who have committed to net-zero goals by 2050 (or sooner), consider supplementing those with interim KPIs and internal targets to help pave the way.It behooves the business community to do the work to set science-based goals and provide measurable signals to the market.
- Choose measurable signals. With clear guideposts available to inform your strategy alongside increasing sophistication in risk modeling, it behooves the business community to do the work to set science-based goals and provide measurable signals to the market. Map your impacts and layer in your emissions and energy goals. Provide contextual commentary so that others can learn from you. And disclose clear, targeted responses that investors can use. Be mindful that your efforts are additive to the strategy and focus on measuring the outcomes vs. the efforts (see, for instance, ClimateBert’s criteria).
- Develop programs with intent. Every institution today indulges in storytelling and programming meant to encourage employee well-being, especially given the ongoing pandemic. Consider how these media can be used to encourage them on their own sustainability journeys. For instance, could you evolve your FY22 employee campaign by including exercising and lunch-and-learns as well as creating campaigns to encourage adoption of more sustainable habits? Could your efforts to reduce printing in the office extend to also reducing trash (eliminating individual trash cans, expanding access to recycling, etc.)?
- Connect the professional dots. Regardless of our function, our everyday role or our capacity for change, we must muster every bit of courage we have to better connect the dots between our professional decisions, our actions and our choices with the reality at hand. Use your skills and your resume purposefully. Identify the intersections between climate action and your work: Where can you learn or evolve your work? What can your team do differently? And how are your leaders responding to or planning to respond to the impact of climate change on the business? Is there a business continuity plan in the works incorporating climate data? Raise your hand for help. Ask tough questions. Don’t look away.
- Opt for optimism. This is key as research after research continues to tell us that hope propels more action than fear — and nothing could be truer for an existential issue such as climate change. As its impact becomes clearer with rampant wildfires, droughts, heat waves and more, let’s choose to do more vs. give up. Personally, I’ve made a revised list of how I will step up my efforts. It includes a decisive focus on eliminating single-use plastic from our household (vs. doing our best), exploring solar energy options (vs. let’s wait and see), exploring partnerships with our local school district on integrating key sustainability actions into curricula (vs. maybe someone else will) and, in the next two years, switching to an electric vehicle (vs. wait til the price comes down).
Finally, I took a professional leap this month that will allow me the opportunity to better use my skills as a communicator, dot connector and storyteller to influence climate action. I joined Walmart in its Global Responsibility team, making the choice to participate more actively, and from the frontlines, in its sustainability efforts.
From being an observer and analyst, I now have a front-row seat to the hard work it takes to move the needle on tough issues such as regenerative agriculture, zero emissions and zero waste. And I am ready for it.