Climate challenge or climate opportunity?
2019 has been a year of awful predictions and heartfelt climate pleas. Even the name Extinction Rebellion is bleak, and Greta Thunberg memorably told our leaders that she doesn’t want them to feel hope. Terror is the preferred emotion. We rightly talk about climate risk and the imperative for change. Influential individuals such as Mark Carney and Christine Lagarde describe the grim world that awaits businesses that do not prepare.
I am not here to make light of the terrifying impacts of climate change – I’m with Greta on that – but amongst this audience, at least, I hope we can also discuss the opportunities inherent in times of great change. Periods of intense disruption always offer both challenges and opportunities. This disruption may be driven by technology, or demography, or our climate. The arrival of digital photography was an insurmountable challenge for Kodak, for example, but has spawned and nurtured a host of industries: internal medical photography, space science, YouTube. Even the method you use to input credit card details is enabled by digital photography.
Climate change is a challenge of global proportions but, within the literature mapping the scale of that task, there are also tantalising glimpses of prospects for reinvention and profit. Some require technical innovation: hydrogen engines to power freight along our motorways, nuclear fusion, better building techniques, agricultural advances. There are rich pickings for both engineers and financiers to root out. But there is also less tangible treasure to be found: corporate reputations will increasingly be shaped by climate-related behaviour and, in turn, reputation impacts share price, staff turnover, and customer retention. Opportunities abound for those who act first or find new ways to demonstrate commitment.
If these sound too far-fetched, too risky to stake your career upon, then let us reflect again on the risks: to your existing business model as resource prices shift, to your financial security as risk profiles are remodelled, to your public goodwill as greater hardship is felt by consumers and corporates are not seen to be ‘doing their bit’. Don’t be that company, don’t be Kodak, or coal. Instead seize the opportunities ahead.
Easier said than done? Inevitably, this will look different for every organisation. Here are a couple of pointers to get you started:
Be informed. Add sustainability-related reading to your usual topics. As a start, I recommend the Committee on Climate Change’s report on how the UK can reach net zero (It is more readable than you might expect).
Be pragmatic. You can’t do everything at once. Try reading frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals, or the CCC report and looking for one or two areas where your organisation has a disproportionate impact (energy inputs, resource use, labour). These are the topics on which you can show leadership.
Be nice. For everything else: be a nice person, keep an eye out for organisations that are leaders and shamelessly adapt their ideas to suit you. It isn’t stealing, after all, it is ‘best practice’.
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This article first appeared on the UK Finance blog at: https://www.ukfinance.org.uk/news-and-insight/blogs/climate-challenge-or-climate-opportunity to publicise the Climate Risk, Green Finance, and Sustainability Conference. You can find out more about the event and book your spot here: http://bit.ly/SPSeventCRGF .