Can You Cool the Heat on Climate Change?

One of the toughest aspects of leadership is inheriting the problems of your predecessors. Great leaders, though, always look at the bigger picture – so they take responsibility for these problems they didn’t create, and forge solutions for the organization’s greater good. Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun embodies this: he wasn’t at the company when the 737 went into production, but he takes accountability to fix its very public and dangerous issues, like a door popping off in flight.

This same leadership trait is even more important with climate change. Oil company C-suites learned of fossil fuel impacts on global warming as far back as the 1950s. Seven decades later, today’s C-suites will have to live with the consequences. And those economic consequences are billions of dollars worth of harshness that will drain bottom lines more and more.

So, what’s a business leader to do? Former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell shared some actions in this week’s podcast:

1. Watch insurance companies.

“Insurance is the lubricant of business,” Kim says. Their actuaries don’t mess around, making decisions on cold, hard facts and stats. When you see them pulling out of certain geographic areas or particular types of business lines, you’ll know they see long-term climate impacts. Steer your organization clear of those, too!

2. Dig underneath the headlines to see the deeper impacts on your company…and its people.

Media reporting on climate change spills the spectacular. Blazing forest fires and pop-up category-five hurricanes make the headlines, but your work team suffers from subtler effects that don’t hit the news. For example, our new record-setting summer heatwaves impair cognitive capacities, leading to more workplace accidents. In one study, that led to over $1 billion in extra costs in California alone. Excess heat exposure can also exacerbate heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, and other health issues.

3. Help your company be the example, instead of the victim.

Unless you work for a very small business, your organization consumes a lot more energy and resources than your home. Spearheading climate-healing initiatives – whether it’s as simple as switching to all LED lighting or as large as powering the building with solar panels – sets an example for the community, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and (after the upfront investment costs) decreases your long-term operating expenses. Several of us at the Innovative Leadership Institute recently saw directly the green initiatives Amazon is implementing…initiatives that, because of Amazon’s scale, will have definite environmental impacts while also creating long-term savings. But you don’t have to be a giant operation to see these benefits; Andrew Lessman’s Procaps Laboratories has been all-solar for decades.

4. Help your board see their role.

Boards have an outsize ability to move the needle for both for- and non-profit organizations, yet many just rubber-stamp one or two C-level executives’ desires. (How that leads to many recent CEO controversies is the subject for another article!) As a stakeholder, urge your board to ask tough questions about the company’s strategic plans in general, but on energy use and sources in particular. Switching to renewable energy sources, for example, is a true investment: there may be up-front costs, but they result in long-term savings. In the bigger picture, reducing climate change means less risk to company property, infrastructure, and thus profitability.

5. Take the moral high ground.

While the bulk of this article focuses on the business side, there’s a moral aspect to climate inaction that we can’t responsibly ignore. We mentioned the health effects above; Kim Campbell points out we’re beginning to see these real-world climate impacts in our healthcare systems. Less obvious is the growing number of climate refugees: people forced to leave homes and jobs due to rising sea levels, droughts, floods, and more. And we’ve long known of the correlation between heat and boosts in violence. Your company’s decisions impact your community!

Directly and indirectly, extreme heat has chilling business consequences. But take hope: you can alter the course of climate change’s impact on your company. Just step up and take the lead.

 

This article was adapted by Dan Mushalko from the Innovating Leadership: Co-Creating Our Future podcast episode Climate Change: Leaders in the Hot Seat with guest Kim Campbell, which premiered January 30th, 2024. This episode was produced in partnership with the International Leadership Association as part of their 25th Annual Global Conference held in October 2023. 

Link to the entire interview:

Check out past episodes of Innovating Leadership: Co-Creating Our Future on your favorite podcast platform, including Apple PodcastsTuneInSpotifyAmazon MusicAudibleiHeartRADIO, and NPR One. Also, stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute on LinkedIn.

 

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