The greatest environmental challenge of our time is without a doubt climate change. Over the coming years and decades global warming will have a stark influence on our lives. Not only through the physical changes in the climate, but also through changes in our energy consumption, travel patterns and many other aspects of our life. Companies will not be unaffected by these changes. Markets will change, as will client requirements and there will be a steep rise in legislation with regards to global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. Developing a comprehensive climate change strategy is therefore an essential part of good business management. This article gives a brief description of the elements that each corporate climate change strategy should include.
The management of global warming should adopt two distinct strategies: climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation. Climate change mitigation deals with the reduction in greenhouse gases to the earth’s atmosphere. Carbon foot-printing and carbon accounting form typical measures that are used within the framework of this strategy. Climate change adaptation revolves around measures that address the changes and vulnerabilities of the organization that will be present as a result of the inevitable physical change in our climate. A good strategy addresses both mitigation and adaptation.
1. Understanding greenhouse gas emissions of the organization
An understanding of the organization’s greenhouse gas emissions is fundamental in every credible corporate climate change strategy. To achieve this a comprehensive greenhouse gas inventory should be made. The inventory is a first step to manage and reduce the emissions, which are also key elements of a corporate strategy. The inventory combined with the management and reduction form the core of a greenhouse gas accounting system. At this moment there are two internationally recognized systems for greenhouse gas accounting available. These are the ISO 14064 standard and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.
2. Understanding climate change vulnerability
Most large organizations have started to make a greenhouse gas inventory and have adopted measures to reduce their carbon footprint. As I described in the introduction, climate change adaptation also forms an important part of a comprehensive corporate global warming strategy. To develop an understanding of an organization’s vulnerability to global warming a review of the operations, products and services, transport needs should be made as well as an understanding of the physical changes to the climate in which the organization operates. There are no clear guidelines on how to develop an understanding of the climate change vulnerability, although the United Nations Panel on Climate Change has published a range of reports documenting the predicted changes to the climate in each of the global regions over the course of the current century. In addition to these global publications, many governments have funded research predicting the potential global warming at a national level.
3. Commit to reduction in GHG emissions
As part of credible corporate strategy, a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions should be made at the most senior level in the organization.
4. Develop internal corporate capacity
Development of internal capacity is an essential element to drive through improvements to both the greenhouse gas emissions and the global warming vulnerability. It is the people within the organization that are best placed to identify practical solutions that will support any improvement programme. Ensuring an adequate level of knowledge and understanding within the members of staff with regards to the global warming issues that are facing the organization is therefore a key element in the corporate global warming strategy.
5. Work with supply chain and engage with stakeholders
A significant contribution to the carbon footprint of a product that an organization produces is made during the processing by suppliers. In addition an organization should be aware of the climate change vulnerability of its own supply chain. A corporate global warming strategy should therefore address the role of the supply chain in managing climate change issues.
6. Adopt and implement improvement action plan
The first five elements provide a thorough understanding of the global warming issues facing an organization. Based on this understanding an improvement plan should be drawn up. As with any credible action plan the actions should consist of SMART targets, be fully funded, and be relevant to the organizations global warming threats and opportunities.
7. Publish an annual report
The final element is the publication of an annual report that demonstrate progress against the action plan, re-affirms the commitment to improvement and accounts for the carbon emissions.
Paul Giesberg is founder and Principal Director at Planning for Sustainability Ltd. This firm specializes in supporting organizations with meeting the challenges of sustainable development in infrastructure and real estate development projects. Among the services that Planning for Sustainability provides are BREEAM advice and assessments and environmental impact assessments. Paul Giesberg also manages a website dealing with GHG accounting.
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