The Future of Work: We Need To Talk About Climate Adaptation

We have all had to deal with a massive event that has disrupted the entire world over the last year. In fact, many of us are still dealing with it. COVID hasn’t gone away and is not going to for quite some time. 

We are all striving to “go back to normal”. But are we thinking about what that normal is? Because that normal is pushing towards something that, to say the least, is “a challenge”. In the same way that a car without brakes hurtling towards a wall is a challenge. Plus there’s another “challenge” in that we are all stuck in that car and some of the occupants think that seatbelts are a global conspiracy. There are also others in the speeding car that think that walls are not real. Some of those people are behind the wheel of the car.

So it is time to talk about climate change. It is going to affect us all. It will definitely affect how we all work and this means literally all of us. From those who work in offices through to farmers, nurses, mechanics…Climate adaptation (not just change) is going to become very real, very quickly.

Let’s talk about it and highlight some issues where businesses can provide help and leadership.

A demonstration referring to "fake news - Climate adaptation narratives
Photo by Kayla Velasquez on Unsplash

The Problem of Narratives

When talking about this issue we tend to see two very different “takes” appear. One is the “everything is doomed” take. The other is “well here are the positives, it’s not all bad!” take.

Neither of these narratives are helpful. To get all meta for a second this post, in a very, very small way, is going to try to move in a different direction. It is time to address the very bad stuff (there is a lot of it) and think about what we can actually do (there is a lot of that too).

Every business on the planet will have this same issue. But there is something they can do about it. Businesses can help to inform the overall narrative with transparency.

Every company should be transparent about the challenges they will face with climate change and how those challenges will affect workers. They should also present practical solutions to help with these issues at the same time. People have lots to deal with in their daily lives, so any climate change news is usually filed under “I’ll care about this in 30 years”. 

Companies have a direct line of communication with their staff. That should be used to facilitate communication around issues related to climate. This will make the problem seem more real and, by extension, mobilize more people to make the changes that they can make to improve things. 

A lot of people recycle now and that was not always the case. So we all know this can work.

Actions You Can Take:

  • Start a dialogue with your staff
  • Present the facts, challenges and actions to staff
  • Underline staff safety in these communications, where it could be an issue
  • Always be transparent and honest
  • Focus on action

A flood in the UK, showing the need for climate adaptation in some areas.
Photo by Chris Gallagher on Unsplash

Climate Change Has Happened, It’s Time For Climate Adaptation

The threshold of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels of global heating is according to António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, “Perilously close. We are at imminent risk of hitting 1.5 degrees in the near term.”

So even if emissions were somehow drastically reduced tomorrow, we would still have to embark on a massive program of climate adaptation. Which will impact almost every business on the planet.

This is because so much carbon has already been released, so even in the event of a crazy, massive emissions reduction tomorrow we all still have to live with what is already out there.

Put simply, if a Doctor tells you that you are at risk of a heart attack, you might make big lifestyle changes that day. But that does not reverse the damage that has been done.

Businesses will be impacted in a number of ways. If you have a supply chain with warehouses, for example, those warehouses might become too hot to safely work in. Which will mean you have to turn up the air conditioning. That means more power usage and more emissions. Also your supply chain might depend on farmers and rural workers working outside. But what if it’s too hot to work outside

The practical aspects of dealing with increased temperature are not spoken about often. So it is time for businesses to start the conversation. Pressure needs to be brought on legislators so governments and businesses can collaborate more effectively on climate adaptation, beyond things like emissions targets. 

This may involve big initiatives like the four day week, which could help to cut down emissions. Big offices may also end up being discouraged, so tax incentives for remote work could also be considered.

CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiatives need to have teeth. By working with governments, businesses can lead the charge in that area.
One of the positive things about people is that when our back is to the wall, we can adapt. We are going to need more of that over the next few years. As businesses are if nothing else, groups of people, companies should step up and lead. Which would not only be responsible, but could also be more profitable and help to recruit better people.

Actions You Can Take:

  • Get your CSR initiatives in order before governments do it for you
  • Reconsider the office, embrace remote working (especially in very hot temperatures)
  • Invest in digital supply chain management that can also help to anticipate climate related issues
  • Keep your workers safe

A flood partially covering a traffic sign.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

The Problem With People

People do not like to focus on the big picture. We also do not really have a shared objective view on what that big picture actually is. There are lots of reasons for this (hint: Facebook, Twitter) but there are reasons for optimism that, strangely, can be found in the pandemic.

The pandemic has shown that, contrary to what you might think, most people will actually act in a mutually beneficial way. The majority of people wear masks and adhere to social distancing measures. For example, countries with no previous history of wearing face masks and coverings amongst the general public rapidly adopted usage such as in Italy (83.4%), the United States (65.8%) and Spain (63.8%) by the end of April 2020.

This will be tested as we go through a process of climate adaptation. For example, can we rely on some people to be reasonable if they cannot buy any coffee? The climate is going to impact a lot of what we take for granted. So it could become tougher to ask people for help in a mutually beneficial exercise as time goes on. Climate adaptation will be a decades-long process, which will test all of us.

Businesses can help with this. As stated earlier, companies all have a direct line of communication with their staff. Aside from a nebulous goal such as “raising awareness” companies can motivate people into action. This could be innovations for new, sustainable products down to offering incentives to participate in community action initiatives. 

Actions You Can Take:

  • Incentivize people to help with local action initiatives
  • Seek consensus on the shared problem, address disinformation without blame

data has a better idea image, but it can lead to paralysis by analysis.
Photo by Franki Chamaki on Unsplash

Data Is Not Action, It’s Time To Do Something

Data brings almost limitless opportunities and insights. But it has to be acted upon. If there is no action it is useless.

The financial sector, for example, has received some recent criticism. A focus on scenario modelling and impact assessments has led to a “paralysis by analysis”. Where collection of data has replaced actual action.

This criticism could be applied to almost any company you name. There are lots of businesses talking about sustainability and climate change. But how many are actually taking the drastic steps needed?

Companies should collect the data they need but also act on it in a meaningful way. Improved business intelligence systems and modelling will make your data easier to digest and prompt more decisive action. Businesses could even employ personalization into their internal climate messaging by using first-party employee data, to make that messaging even more effective.

Actions You Can Take:

  • Do something about those nasty climate impact assessments
  • Use the data you have to make quicker decisions
  • Improve your data collection, but drastically improve BI dashboards and decision making
  • Think long term, if you are planning a big head office that might end up being underwater in 30 years then maybe reconsider
  • Work with a partner to create a first-party personalization messaging strategy around climate

Contact us via

Talk to MAQE

MAQE can help your business prepare for an era of climate adaptation. We can make your organization more agile and better able to change. MAQE can also improve your data and decision making capabilities with cutting-edge business intelligence tech. We also have FMCG supply chain optimization. So talk to us via [email protected]