One Last Spark…For This Decade

The next decade begins in 10 days. 2020 has a certain mystique to it, a year from a future you used to think was way, way far away. It also brings a number of big milestones. Earth Day turns 50, as does a certain writer of Saturday Spark. WeSpire is turning 10. A number of organizations are reporting against their impact goals and setting new stretch targets for 2030. There is a rather critical US election. 

Last week, Robert Glazer, the author of Elevate and Friday Forward (which Saturday Spark was heavily inspired by), shared a post about One Last Talk. It prompted me to reflect on the last ten years and consider the next ten. I wanted to share these thoughts with you in One Last Spark to close out this decade.

Over the last ten years, I’ve witnessed a sea change in concern about climate change at companies. Citizens are also, finally, starting to catch up. When I started WeSpire, I got to talk with Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist and author of Hot, Flat and Crowded. After explaining my idea, his initial reaction was that we needed someone to focus on Main Street, but that it was going to be very hard. The team at GreenBiz was a bit more blunt. “So why won’t you be roadkill like the dozens of other start-ups that have tried to tackle sustainability engagement?” Back in 2010, sustainability engagement was a niche business and it’s taken nearly this entire decade to see a mass movement emerge. But it is emerging and people are hungry to know what they can do to make an impact.

Businesses are also talking about purpose and impact at an unprecedented level, particularly in the last half of this decade. The Global Goals were established with significant business input and alignment. Larry Fink wrote catalytic investor letters about the importance of purpose and profit. 181 CEOs signed onto the Business Roundtable statement redefining the purpose of a corporation. Businesses now know that being a force for good is good for business.

In spite of this positive momentum, I think our chances of holding to 1.5 degrees are decreasing rapidly. The analogy that stuck with me after reading the latest IPCC report was that we need a mobilization akin to World War II. I certainly don’t see a mobilization happening that looks anything like World War II, particularly here in the US. I’m an optimist by nature. I do think that we will eventually figure this out. But we are not doing enough, fast enough today. Therefore, my gut is that it’s going to get much worse before it gets better.

As we enter this next decade, we can’t stop fighting hard for 1.5 degrees. However, I also recommend we prepare to lead our teams, our businesses and our families in a +2 degree world. How do we do this?

Understand and Mitigate Your Risks
If you are a company, engage your risk team and identify your biggest exposures to climate related issues. If you have your “head of family” hat on, learn your 100-year flood likelihood, how exposed to forest fires and hurricanes you are, and the forecast for water availability in your area. Many cities have pulled together this data and it can make for some eye-opening reading. When you are making investment decisions, whether to build a plant in an area or buy a home, evaluate the decision with your “climate lens” in addition to your financial lens. Take the steps recommended for disaster preparedness in your region, whether it’s owning a generator, cutting brush or keeping a “to go” bag handy.

Develop Resilience Capacity
Personal resilience can be developed and improved. The American Psychological Association offers 11 practices to increase resilience, ranging from meditation to building stronger relationships. Organizations and communities can increase their resilience capacity as well, in part by helping their people improve personal resilience. However, Harvard research found that organizational resilience is driven by leadership demonstrating key behaviors that in turn influence others. Increasing your resiliency will have immediate life and business benefits and serve you well when and if climate-related problems hit.

Be a Hero
This week, I had a chance to visit Timberland’s newly renovated headquarters and there is a giant sign on the wall when you walk in that says, “Nature Needs Heroes.” Heroes are people who take action to help, whether that’s planting trees, reducing water usage or painting a school. Help your people take action. Take action yourself and ensure it’s visible. As a leader, when you model Hero behavior, it has a powerful multiplier effect on your teams and what they do. 

While I’m a tad uneasy about what the next ten years will hold, I believe strongly that with chaos comes opportunity. The opportunity to lead and step up, the opportunity to invent new solutions, and the opportunity to care and provide compassion for those who are suffering. I also know that whatever happens, we are stronger when we work together. I look forward to working with each of you over this next decade to build ourselves a better working world.

Quote of the Week:  “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”

Ambrose Redmoon

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