Interview on "Business Innovators Radio"

I just got done with an interview for Business Innovators Radio where host Richard Tunnah and I had a conversation on what kinds of businesses look help with their sustainability, carbon & climate exposure.  It's a quick listen and connects a few dots for those executives that think climate change is an issue that only touches on big business.  Take a listen.

Disclosure ≠ Climate Planning

Disclosure ≠ Climate Planning

This is the story of how and why a smart person completely missed the real corporate dangers of climate change.

The other day a corporate executive told me, "I've been getting board & investor pressure to disclose our climate liabilities and I think we've finally turned the corner.  We understand our liabilities now that we have a clear sense of how we impact the environment."

"Great." I said, "So what about how the environment effects you?"

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Talking about "Climate-Smart" Money

I had a remarkable experience recently.  One that became an all-consuming draw on time and mental capital.  I was invited to speak at a TEDx.  For those of you who don't know TED is a world famous ideas conference dedicated to promoting what they call Ideas Worth Spreading.  All of the talks are brief (under 18 minutes) and all of them are available online.  Collectively, TED talks have been viewed hundreds of millions of times and they've inspired remarkable action globally.  Every subject matter has been covered from micro-robotics to education reform and some of the speakers who have taken the TED stage have gone on to remarkable public lives thanks to the boost.  So popular is TED that it's spawned a culture of regional, independent conferences that license the name under "TEDx".  When I got the call from TEDxNavesink I was thrilled... and terrified.


Preparation for any talk requires energy and focus.  This talk was especially thorny because the audience was a general one.  Typically, I talk to audiences from the business world or from the governments of small island states.  These groups are largely homogenous and I can talk about specifics and impacts in a substantive way.  That wasn't the case here.  With this tiny little talk (I'd been given only 11 minutes) I had to drill down to a simple message, repeat it enough for it to be memorable and frame it to help anyone from any background relate to the subject.

The Preparation

I had about three months to prepare and it went by in a blink.  I spent the first month framing out what I wanted to say and what was important.  It became obvious early on that the world didn't need another talk about the evidence and veracity of the science.  Moreover I'm not a scientist and I felt it would be in error to try and play one.  At the same time it didn't make sense to talk about the politics.  I'm comfortable there but what would the take-away be?  Vote different?  That wasn't going to fly.  At some point I realized that what I really need to was to leapfrog the whole argument.  This talk had to be about how the world wasn't stuck in the debate.  That to call global warming a debate at all was to ignore the leaders in finance and industry who've been working to avert or insulate climate-risks.  Pulling back the curtain and showing the audience how  business and government were already charging fees related to absorbing the cost of climate change; that's where this talk had to go.

Challenge 1: The Family Budget

This talk wouldn't work if I didn't have their attention.  Unfortunately, climate related costs tend to be acute (and subject to argument), not systemic.  We can easily calculate the cost of extreme events like a hurricane but no single hurricane can be blamed on climate change.  Conversely, it's difficult to factor the costs of a greater humidity but it's clear that they exist and that global warming is to blame.  I needed to find some examples that were systemic and measurable.   Weeks went by before by favorite emerged: Heroine.  It turns out that Afghanistan makes pretty much all of the world's heroine and Afghanistan has had systemic drought for pretty much all of the century so far.  Perfect.  A robust drug war come with robust metrics and it turns out that the audience for TEDxNavesink was drawn from two counties with a combined 1800 man anti-heroine task force.  That made it easy to calculate the costs to a family budget.  Once I had the lead the next two followed in quick order.

Challenge 2: Follow the Leaders

If I could prove that climate change was already a concern for the average budget (family and business) it would be an easy pivot to industries that are taking the issue seriously. This middle third of the talk was by far the easiest part but the most difficult to edit.  So many companies are working hard to mitigate climate impacts that I didn't lack for evidence.  Unfortunately, there just aren't a lot that look at climate change as a core business risk and publish KPIs that relate to exposure.  I realized that talking too much about any company was a mistake.  Industry is just too diverse.  Business too varied.  Ultimately there were too many variables for any single story to be evidentiary.

Except one.  Wal-mart.  There are a lot of reasons people poke at Wal-mart but you have to admit, they're a goliath.  They became the only logical choice.

Challenge 3: The Ask

By the point that I have most of the talk lined out I've been fiddling with an ending for weeks.  I've had this sneaking suspicion that people need to be let off the hook for inaction.  Let's face it, climate change has been an issue in the background for over fifty years now.  No one has a legitimate excuse for not having taken action by now and it's had to turn around publicly and admit you were wrong.  I felt I needed to acknowledge that.  I wanted to give people a pass for their inaction and better marching orders on what to do now.  It was obvious to me that planting trees and voting different just aren't the most useful asks of an audience.  Asking them to be selfish though... that could work.

My thinking was that given all of the systemic risks, acting on climate change isn't just a moral imperative, it's deeply selfish.  Selfish in a good way.  Selfish in the same way that you'd steal food to feed your family.  So in the end and with only a couple weeks left to practice it became clear that the ask for the talk was simple: Question risky behavior.  Separate yourself from the masses who more and more seems to ask less and less of one another.  Ask more from those around you.  Ask more from your accountants and attorneys, ask more from your bankers and brokers, ask more from your partners, suppliers and advisors.  Ask them all, "What is my exposure to climate risks?  How are we planning for a world where climate increases the uncertainly of our business?"  It's the questioning that makes all the difference.

ISIS, Henry Ford, and Sustainability

ISIS, Henry Ford, and Sustainability

It's estimated that between $1.5-$2M in oil revenue comes into ISIS coffers every day.  This means that somewhere a host of traders and middle men are working hard to blend that oil into your supply chain unnoticed.  When you ask, "Who's to blame for this and what do I do?" the answer is simple: Look to Henry Ford on both questions.

This is a look at the genius of Henry Ford, the sad mistakes Ford Motor would later make and how abandoning support for the market created echoes which ring out to the Islamic State today.  How do these things connect?  What do they have to do with sustainability?  Read on...

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The Rules for Launching Sustainability Internally

The Rules for Launching Sustainability Internally

Unfortunately, businesses often get tangled in situations where attrition and promotion move people into roles that require experience they don't have.  For a company considering a sustainability initiative your actually asking everyone to move into that uncomfortable role AND your asking them all to move, all at the same time.  Today we're talking about how you make that leap.  How you move an entire group of people to a new goal all at the same time.

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Water Usage: Are you Leaking Cash?

Water Usage: Are you Leaking Cash?

Emissions and energy get the spotlight when it comes to sustainability programs but water is actually the most limited resource your company is likely to deal with.  Some of you reading this may find that surprising.  You may react initially by thinking the idea is a little silly.  Take a deeper look and you'll find just how serious the issue is.
 

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Why Business (Not Gov't or Individuals) will solve the Climate Crisis (3/3)

Why Business (Not Gov't or Individuals) will solve the Climate Crisis (3/3)

There's a general misconception that the business community hasn't accepted the facts surrounding climate change.  That's not actually the case.  In fact most of the business community hasn't weighed in at all.  As industry makes itself more conscious of a warming planet, you're seeing more attention paid to these four areas in particular.  These are the activities sensible mangers will impose on the marketplace.

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Business (Not Government or Individuals) will solve the Climate Crisis (Part 1 of 3)

Business (Not Government or Individuals) will solve the Climate Crisis (Part 1 of 3)

How does a responsible manager act in a world increasingly constrained by climate risks?  It's an interesting question.  You could be responsible for General Electric or Germany and still you couldn't hope to make an impact on the whole world.  Your actions are so small in real numbers that it seems almost reasonable to abandon hope of making any impact at all.  Instead, you think, keep energy and funds available to adapt as the situation plays out.  Be ready to nimbly move capital, assets and people on little notice.  This strategy, the thinking goes, prepares your systems by decreasing vulnerability to climate-induced crises.  Unfortunately, it's also wrong-headed and will hurt you in the long run.

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Design a Data Center that has a furnace and you should be fired.

Design a Data Center that has a furnace and you should be fired.

Data centers are a particularly thorny issue when a company is addressing it’s sustainability profile.  The energy profiles for large IT facilities are typically monstrous in size and that makes it difficult to accommodate a company’s desire to reduce it’s footprint.  Google, Apple and Microsoft have made headlines recently in the design of their facilities and (in the case of Apple specifically) their commitment to using solar power to run the facilities but is that really the most important factor to consider?

Making a commitment to invest in a data center usually means that your company is moving in the right direction.  You have enough demand for what you're doing that you need to make a big investment in the next phase of growth.  There are gong to be a lot of decisions to make on hardware, architecture and suppliers not to mention strategy but it may surprise you that the biggest two choices should be made not on the basis of technology but on the basis of partnerships.  Those two questions are:

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What part of a Carbon Footprint is Your Fault?

What part of a Carbon Footprint is Your Fault?

Hello and welcome to Climate|Money|Policy where we explore climate change as a business issue and an opportunity to grow your organization.  In this post we get into the details of questions about carbon foot printing with enough depth to create clarity for the average executive.  In doing that we'll lay out some ways to think about the numbers and how they could impact your decision making.

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6 Signs that Your Sustainability Initiative is Doomed

6 Signs that Your Sustainability Initiative is Doomed

Organizational change is difficult but every day talented people in well meaning organizations work tirelessly to improve their processes and teams to drive greater productivity.  Sadly, it doesn't always work out.  The key is knowing when to stop.  If you don't know when to call it quits you're going to waste a lot of time.  Today we're going to look at some warning signs that the sustainability initiative you care about is doomed.  Follow the signs here and you'll get advanced notice that you're doing something wrong and it should be fixed or abandoned.

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5 Steps to Communicating Sustainability to your Investors

5 Steps to Communicating Sustainability to your Investors

In the push and pull of long-term vs. short-term often sustainability and resilience programs are marginalized. Today we lay out steps an executive can use to talk about his long term goals in ways that comfort the short term demands of investors.  Here's a guide to the five tactical rules you should follow when you're introducing your sustainability program to your board and/or shareholders.

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How the SEC can solve Climate Change

How the SEC can solve Climate Change

Disclosure is a good thing because it allows investors a reasonable chance to evaluate the risks involved in their investment choices. Unfortunately there's a giant hole in the middle of the disclosure process that's been exposed in the last few years.  The assumption is that transparency and disclosure allow for smart investing. While that's certainly true the wise investor also wants another piece of data: the health of the marketplace.  For this reason the SEC appears to have bought into the fallacy that systemic risks can't EVER be avoided by disclosure. This is how climate change is different.

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