Why Climate Change Matters for Every Leader
A new survey says many executives underestimate the impact of climate change. Associations have an opportunity to change the conversation.
Leaders are feeling better these days about things—but they might have a blind spot.
A pulse survey of more than 600 U.S. business executives released last week by PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed plenty of optimism. The percentage of respondents who say they’re concerned about recession has plummeted since last year, from 35 to 17 percent. They say they’re more interested in making investments around innovation, and more confident they have the kind of culture that stokes new ideas. And for all the disruption around quiet quitting, the great resignation, and hybrid work, 74 percent of respondents say “they can attract and retain the talent they need.”
The blind spot, though, is climate change. The PwC survey suggests leaders may be underestimating the challenge it presents: Half of the respondents say they see it as a risk, but less than a fifth (19 percent) say it’s a serious one, and less than a quarter of them (23 percent) are planning around its disruptions.
I do like a good climate-catastrophe yarn, but I don’t fear the worst. Still as a person who reads the news (and who’s just lived through a month straight of 115-degree-or-more summer highs), it’s hard to ignore the potential impacts, both for associations and the industries they serve. Climate change disrupts supply chains and access to resources; associations themselves have a harder time guaranteeing that their conferences and events will be free of weather-related challenges.
Even so, the prevailing sentiment around climate change, for many businesses, is that they’ll think about it when the problem becomes severely pronounced, or when regulation forces their hand. Tufts University Business Professor Bhaskar Chakravorti told Marketwatch last week that leaders are disincentivized to take the long view. “Most CEOs are under pressure to deliver results to analysts and to the market,” he said. “They are in their jobs for less than five years on average. And the returns from any investment they make has a much longer horizon.”
Associations have their own pressures to stay in the black, of course, but they also have the opportunity to press industry to think beyond the short term. Earlier this year, I wrote about a pair of associations that have been doing just that.
One, the Global Cement and Concrete Association, has been running an annual innovation challenge to reduce the carbon impact of their industry. Many companies in the industry are pursuing their own efforts around that, but spearheading a challenge prompts collaboration and innovation that might not otherwise exist, and brings startup companies into the association’s fold.
Another association, the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA), has been doing much the same, establishing a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. With around two dozen partners signed on to commit to that goal, the program, called the Road Forward, is at once a prompt to innovation and a revenue driver for the association as well.
One crucial note about NAPA’s effort: As one staffer explained, “they wouldn’t have gone down this road if we hadn’t done this.” Associations aren’t legislators, but they have plenty of moral and ethical sway with their members and industry. A lot of business leaders aren’t seeing the urgency of the problem, and struggle to take the long view. Associations can do much to address both.