Debbra A.K. Johnson (For Environmental Leader 2015 Insider Knowledge Report )
Principal, DAKJ, LLC
Resilience Strategy & Implementation
September 21, 2015
Trust, Connect & Collaborate
I’ve been fortunate to work with companies such as Nike and DuPont that had leaders that committed to sustainability early. In some cases they championed climate change (against popular sentiment) and drove change across their organizations and down their value chains, often beginning with energy savings and greenhouse gasses. Whether by vision or necessity, these leaders created environments that encouraged and allowed sustainability thinking to emerge, be developed and, eventually, operationalized to varying degrees within their organizations.
In early 2013 I began serving on the Private Sector Advisory Group (PSAG) of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). The UNISDR focuses on reducing the risks from climate related disasters. With improvements in climate science and data, sensing and communications – the PSAG is driving the reduction of risks and the prevention of losses – both human and property from those risks which, in turn, contribute to increasing levels of community and institutional resilience.
Within a year of joining the PSAG, it became clear that there were practical reasons as well as tremendous opportunities to bring climate change, sustainability and resilience together. These are interdependent, interlocking and enabling agendas that will benefit from converging. Managed separately, they’re taxing. When combined and brought into coherence, they can help build and support a world that’s beginning to feel the pressures of population growth and the global development required to meet the expectations of a fast-growing middle class.
A simplified construct for thinking about these three agendas is that climate is an impact, providing positive, neutral or negative effects. Sustainability is a set of mindsets and behaviors that guide what we do (or don’t) which helps or hinders our sustainability. Resilience is the conditions that result and enable individuals, communities, businesses, regions and so on to survive and even thrive at best, or collapse and succumb at worse.
Pressed into service as part of my advising role at the UNISDR, I began articulating this coherence relative to the Private Sector, first for the UN General Assembly Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (January 2014) and later during the UNISDR Americas Regional Platform in Ecuador (May 2014). In 2015, and I co-authored a chapter for “Disaster Management and Private Sector: Challenges & Potentials,” a book released at the World Congress on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan http://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-4-431-55414-1. The research and learnings from each block of work provided a clarifying view of the private sector’s strengths, weaknesses, capabilities and challenges as they work to integrate and operationalize climate change, sustainability and DRR/Resilience more fully into their business models and research and development streams.
Here are my topmost learnings for the private sector on bringing these agendas together for success:
The lines of communication between the public and private sector are weak and clogged with mistrust. Working across all aisles, and putting preconceptions aside is critical. Consider using coherence as a framework to define actions that are cooperation- & collaboration-worthy.
Acting on the three agendas is particularly difficult because the fields of concern are extremely broad, complicated and distributed across multiple functions and areas of responsibility and power. The Rockefeller Foundation, through their Resilient Cities campaign, has suggested that organizations consider appointing a Chief Resilience Officer. This new role could expedite the connections urgently needed between and across the functions (CSR, Sustainability, HSE, Sourcing, Finance, HSE, R&D, Capital…) as well as effectively bridge public and private sectors.
Finally, to quote my favorite Sustainability Director, “Let’s not let perfect stand in the way of progress.” Doing nothing is not an option.