Responding to climate change requires innovation. Dr. Ann Dale and Rob Newell of Royal Roads University provide five tips for companies seeking innovative ways to address climate change. Tips draw from a recent report called “Meeting the Climate Challenge.”
1. A picture is worth a thousand words
To communicate climate change impacts, go beyond numbers and charts. Instead, use “visualization” —images of impacts — to show staff and other stakeholders how climate change will affect specific areas or resources. “When people can see the effects, it engages both the heart and the mind and leads to action,” says Dale.
Visualization often shows a geographical area with climate impacts superimposed. Companies near water can look at how sea level rise will affect them: e.g. effects on U.S. coastlines. Natural resource companies can anticipate effects of disease or fire: e.g. effects on forestry in British Columbia.
Public resources are increasingly available; you may also want to partner with a local university and have them develop useful images for you. (See NBS’s Sustainability Centres community to access local universities.)
2. Focus on multiplying your impact
Sustainability managers sometimes focus on advancing specific initiatives. But they’re more effective if they act as facilitators: building bridges to other departments and sharing expertise that helps solve problems. In the recent study, “organizations where the sustainability coordinator has more of the facilitator role were much farther advanced,” says Dale.
For example: Sustainability managers might help build a business case for climate change action that their colleagues could use, or compile environmental resources.
3. Innovation requires collaboration
“You have innovation among teams of people, not individuals,” says Dale. No single expert, company or even sector has all the solutions for climate change. New solutions emerge when multiple perspectives combine. Within companies, connections across departments spur innovation. Look outside the company as well: talk with researchers, policymakers and peers at other companies.
That collaboration can be virtual, making it very cost-effective. Read more about Dale’s and Newell’s work on collaboration.
4. The home team matters
Employees have valuable ideas. Access them through tried-and-true efforts like a suggestion box. Paying attention to employees’ suggestions can improve their work performance as well. “Employees are motivated by the opportunity for autonomy and innovation,” says Newell. This is especially true in high-level, cognitive work.
You can also build momentum by letting cost savings from a project remain in the unit that led the project. The unit can then use the savings to power its next climate innovation effort.
5. Win-win opportunities are real
The research found that energy efficiency and waste reduction actions reduce operating costs. “Environmental action isn’t just a luxury that can be enjoyed if the funds are available,” says Newell. “Operating in an environmentally-friendly fashion can open up new avenues for running businesses in a cost-effective way.”
For example: In organizations studied, hiring an energy manager led to net positive funds as a result of the cost savings the person produced.
Learning from government
Dale and Newell’s project, Meeting the Climate Challenge (MC3), focused on actions by local governments. But the lessons can be applied to for-profit businesses, the authors say. “Our findings show that opportunities exist for communities to develop in innovative, collaborative and sustainable ways, and these opportunities extend to all organizations," says Newell.