The Upside of the Climate Change Conversation

 When I open the climate change (CC) conversation with leaders of corporations or community benefit organisations, there is often an initial reluctance. Many seem loathe to examine their greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), the effects CC will have on their organisations, and what they can do to mitigate or adapt to these effects.

I get it. We are afraid of increasing costs, of issues that divert us from our mission, and our capacity to take on even more work.

But there are upsides to bringing the climate change conversation to the board.

This conversation is not about whether CC will happen, it is about whether we will be reactive or proactive. Examining likely climate scenarios allows us to plan for our facilities, for our residents and our clients. Do we need evacuation plans, or increased protection against heat or precipitation? Can we take actions that reduce or change rising insurance exposure?

Through this conversation, we will also find operating efficiencies. Waste is waste. If you reduce or eliminate energy waste—whether to mitigate CC or decrease costs—it is going to increase operating efficiency.

While examining climate scenarios in 2050, will we identify potentially changing client behaviours? Clients may abandon entire sectors (think oil & gas) while creating new opportunities for others (mining and production of battery minerals, renewable energy producers, etc.). Might our clients need new streams of products, programs or services? Do we need to advocate for new government policy? Will we find entirely new markets?

At a broader level, is there any way we can think about our climate in 2050 without also asking: “What is our organisation in 2050?” That is a powerful governance question.

Another area we must examine is the impact of current and imminent laws—federal, provincial and municipal—on our organisations. The federal government is now consulting on new rules around financial disclosure for publicly traded companies, banks and pension funds and has a climate action framework. The province has rules and regulations around energy efficiency, building codes, incentives for retrofitting existing buildings and purchasing electric vehicles. Municipal bylaws are affecting how buildings are built, where we can drive and where we can park. All levels impose taxes.

Millennials are filing lawsuits against companies with high emissions, the banks that finance them, and the funds (pension and mutual) that invest in them. None have been decided yet, but the threat is beginning to impact D&O insurance—and the reputations of entire sectors.  

Engaging in the CC conversation will probably improve our reputation with our own staff, volunteers and other stakeholders, affecting recruitment and retention. It will certainly impress federal and provincial funders.

We will likely uncover specific government incentives related to energy, but also broader acceptance when we seek government funding. Taking a leadership position on CC will provide a near-term competitive advantage, but I suspect within a few years, we will not even be in the game if we do not engage.

At a more subtle level, engaging in the CC conversation will reduce our feelings of being out of control, lowering our anxiety as we proactively address this existential threat. It can replace guilt with a sense of accomplishment in leading positive social change.

All to say that engaging in the climate change conversation at the governance level is not a dreary must-do, but an opportunity to identify exciting new opportunities while helping lead change for the better. I call that an upside to the climate change conversation.

Michael Davis