Speaking the language of risk: climate change and the future of business

Greener Horizons panel

Speaking the language of risk: climate change and the future of business

In an increasingly carbon-constrained economy, it is clear that an organization’s environmental, social and financial performance is dependent on climate action. The development of a thorough and goal-oriented sustainability program, one that integrates climate change impacts into risk management and takes into account the key role of private and public stakeholders, is critical to successful planning.

At our Greener Horizons event in Vancouver, moderated by Nancy Wright of GLOBE Series, Bullfrog Power brought together a panel of business leaders to ask how they’re speaking the language of risk in their organizations today to prepare for climate impacts now and in the future. Below is a summary of how these innovative business leaders are looking ahead and developing proactive methods for both adaptation, mitigation, and climate resilience.

Arthur DeJong, WhistlerBlackcomb

Arthur DeJong, WhistlerBlackcomb
“We’re the canary in the coal mine. We’re on the edge of a cliff on this issue because we work in natural ecosystems.”

DeJong put into focus the connection between climate risk and the tourism industry, stressing the need for all leaders in the sector—a sector that makes up 8 to 9% of the global economy— to adopt climate-risk efforts. DeJong noted WhistlerBlackcomb’s early detection of climate risk, seeing as the organization operates in a natural ecosystem and views glaciers as “nature’s thermometers.”

DeJong provided a candid picture of WhistlerBlackcomb’s journey to having “zero-operating footprint,” highlighting the “elephant in the room” when assessing emissions: the environmental cost of travel to the resort itself.

WhistlerBlackcomb’s climate risk plan revolves around three key facets:

  1. Adaptation: To continue to have a thriving winter business in a future with less snow, balance is key to adaptation. It’s essential to have enough snow carrying capacity to match the infrastructure the resort has invested in.
  2. Diversification: Become a fully integrated 4-season resort by investing in more experiences not requiring snow, such as mountain biking, hiking, and, most recently, the resort’s Peak to Peak gondola experience.
  3. Mitigation: Achieve a zero-operating footprint, with no carbon emissions and no waste. For example, incorporate hybrid snow grooming technology.

For DeJong, WhistlerBlackcomb is a resilient organization with a depth of financial and infrastructural resources. He stressed that WhistlerBlackcomb’s environmental leadership attracts a younger demographic, as 60% of their staff is under 30. DeJong feels that WhistlerBlackcomb and its operation is a solid proof point for the idea that businesses can do more with less, simultaneously growing in size and lessening in environmental impact.

Neil Pegram, Morguard

Arthur DeJong, WhistlerBlackcomb
“We look at materiality as a fiduciary duty. Providing and disclosing material information to our investors and clients, providing them with the right information to make a good decision, is critical.”

Morguard positions itself as an advising body to its investors, targeting and offering information for its stakeholders. Pegram pointed out that economic incentive for sustainable choices is paramount, and although environmental, social, and governance issues are well-known and well-discussed internally, their relevance externally is still an area for improvement.

Pegram also discussed the reality of having to consider multiple stakeholders, asset classes, and regions when making decisions; he candidly talked about the challenges of having to validate the importance of environmental risk against more traditional business areas such as leasing, sales, and capital planning projects. Today, about 400 of Morguard’s properties have climate information built into their analyses. And for Morguard’s management, Pegram notes that energy use is now a key priority as it is an area where return on investment is most quantifiable.

Meaghan Beck, Sodexo Canada

Meaghan Beck, Sodexo Canada
“Functioning in more than 90 countries worldwide, we recognize that we need to not only take care of our people, but also function as good corporate citizens in the communities that we serve.”

Working at a global company with over 400,000 employees, Beck put into focus some of the challenges and benefits of incorporating climate risk into global business models, policies, and reporting systems. One example: the challenge of having to quantify or even standardize best practices internationally. To overcome this barrier, Sodexo looks to each country’s management team to set their own objectives and share best practices to develop successful strategies.

Beck provided a preview of Sodexo’s upcoming Better Tomorrow 2025 corporate responsibility plan, launching in 2017, with a threefold focus: Sustainability, Diversity and Community. In discussing the strategy, Beck described Sodexo’s mission as working with the community, giving back, and enhancing quality of life. Sodexo has aligned its overall strategy with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, whose targets range from the environment to hunger. Sodexo is working towards its targets by:

  1. Reducing food waste: The company serves 15,000 meals a day and has reduce food waste from 40% to 15% over the past 5 years.
  2. Eliminating styrofoam and opting for environmentally-friendly options: Sodexo, because of their size, have the ability to work with suppliers and increase demand for sustainable alternatives.

For the opportunity to learn from more of Canada’s thought leaders, stay tuned for the date of our next Greener Horizons event.

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