Whatever the risk – whether it be wildfires and hurricanes, or Brexit – scenario-planning for a sustainable response is all about building resilience, fast. Resilience is the answer.
Like the truth, however, resilience is rarely pure and never simple.
There is a lot of help and guidance out there, though. Zurich Insurance Group, for instance, outlines potential responses in its report on climate risk management – suggesting specifics of best practice to adopt around mitigation, within a multi-stakeholder framework.
Supply-chain specialist Segura draws on its market-leading experience in garment and fashion retail sectors to map potential impacts of extreme weather events and advocate for transparency and traceability benefits of technology in an increasingly digitised world.
Whereas, global non-profit BSR makes the business case for action around climate change, pointing to opportunities emerging – and some already existing – in a low-GHG economy.
Climate resilience is a risky business, by definition.
Often, such advice follows the familiar three-step business approach to risk-management: namely, identifying priorities, developing targets and evaluating impact.
In some senses, climate risk is no different from any other; and many organisations have contingency plans in place for disruption arising from such as social unrest, political or economic instability.
When forecasters get it wrong
Forecasting the future in business is difficult enough, however, without also having to factor in the possible effects of climate change. Furthermore, getting your forecasts wrong can be fatal – and the story of the Hudson Bay Railway provides something of a cautionary tale.
Nicknamed the ‘Polar Bear Capital of the World’, Churchill, Manitoba, in Canada, is a trading-post town on the western shore of the Hudson Bay. As the country’s only deepwater Arctic port, it is connected by rail to the likes of Winnipeg, over 1,000km away to the south.
Back around the year 2000, expectations were that climate change would strengthen the hand of the port commercially, as diminishing ice flows meant ships would increasingly favour Arctic routes. As David M Collenette, Canada's then Minister of Transport, said at the time: ''If we are going to have global warming, then the only way for Churchill to go is up!''
The growth projections proved false, however. Fast-forward to 2016 and many port employees were laid off due to the loss of wheat-trade business. Then in 2017, private rail company operator OmniTRAX found itself forced to announce the indefinite suspension of the train service and closure of the line, after extreme weather events saw the track-bed washed away in 19 locations and multiple bridges damaged.
There followed a long-running saga of unsuccessful negotiations to fund restoration and attempts to offload the railway assets, with repairs to the community lifeline only finally completing late last year. In the end, thanks to what locals describe as a ‘miracle’, it took the new operators Arctic Gateway Group – owned by First Nations and Communities, Fairfax and AGT Foods – little more than a month to undertake the remedial works.
Climate resilience is a risky business, by definition.
Exit, cut and capture
So, where do you start? Well, efficiency has been the default sustainability setting for many businesses seeking to minimise consumption in the name of both mitigation and adaptation. Making cuts can help reduce emissions, as well as exposure to risk of rising costs and falling stocks. In addition to moderating direct resource use, shrinking footprints can have a ripple effect on supply-chain impacts involving extractive industries, fossil-fuel burning, waste generation, water abstraction and more. In short, less usage means less risk.
Elevating the idea of ‘saving’ resources to a strategic level, though, can create more radical approaches to redesigning processes and, ultimately, rethinking business models. Take the new Futurecraft.Loop running shoe from Adidas, for instance: made from just one material, it is 100% recyclable and zero waste. This means end-of-first-use sneakers can be taken back and ground up into pellets, to remake again as new pairs of footwear.
Under the banner 'From threat into thread', Adidas has already been working for a number of years with Parley for the Oceans to help address the pollution problem of marine plastic and the innovative Loop shoe represents a milestone in the company’s journey towards its target of using only recycled plastic by 2024. It also happens to be vegan.
This is not just cutting resource use, this is (re)capturing resource value. It is circular economy for sports retail; and Adidas is effectively exiting the market for virgin plastic.
Exiting markets is also the agenda driving fossil-fuel divestment, where saving resource literally means leaving it in the ground. The news that Norway’s $1tr sovereign wealth fund – the largest such pension pot in the world and one created to invest profits from North Sea oil – has committed to divestment really tells the tale.
Resilience is moving money, not just making it.
Innovate, invest and grow
When it comes to actively investing, though, looking at risk and opportunity through a resilience lens might result in the likes of manufacturers adopting a more defensive tactic and focusing on supply-chain security to insure against short-term shocks and uncertainty.
In tune with current trends towards protectionist policymaking in some quarters, vertical integration and reshoring of production and jobs could be seen as prudent, preventative measures in the face of globalisation concerns ranging from climate risk, to Brexit.
Adopting an aspirational mindset might steer an organisation more in the direction of ‘Net Positive’ business models, where the aim is ‘doing more good, not just less harm’.
So, in the built environment sector and real estate markets, for instance, (renewably) generating more energy than a building uses – as championed by the Powerhouse framework in Norway – constitutes a positive contribution to the energy transition and an advanced resilience strategy, to boot.
Of course, such positive thinking is not limited simply to innovations around energy use and carbon, but can also be applied to water impacts, material flows, air pollution and biodiversity gains – which through green infrastructure, including living roofs and walls, can greatly grow resilience benefits (literally) on a city-wide basis.
Regenerative design is resilience built-in.
Communicate, connect and loop
Ultimately, of course, resilience is a team game and, as such, connecting people together around shared Sustainable Development Goals is critical for whole-planet-working towards systemic change. In many ways, communicating the commonality of problems and solutions is every bit as vital as closing the loops in a circular economy.
If you had any doubts about the power of effective resilience messaging, just consider the impact of Extinction Rebellion and teenage climate-celebrity Greta Thunberg; or Blue Planet II and nonagenarian mega-influencer Sir David Attenborough.
Resilience is forever the answer; but, climate emergency our burning question.
Jim McClelland is editor of @SustMeme magazine