Working together is the only path forward to quickly and effectively tackle the impending “code red” threat of climate change. In this interview, Managing Director of Reos Partners North America Joe McCarron explores the collaborative strategies businesses can take to help contribute to and scale solutions.
As the world faces existential threats from the effects of climate change, businesses can play a significant role in the development and implementation of solutions. Many companies have pledged to reduce carbon emissions, improve product sustainability, and support environmentally friendly initiatives. But will this make enough of an impact?
Here, Reos Partners Managing Director Joe McCarron shares his views on the importance of collaboration, the need for information symmetry, and recommended steps businesses can take to make the most of their environmental commitments.
Why is collaboration imperative to climate action?
The issue of climate change has a “code red” imperative. We are living in the decisive decade. We not only need to be effective, we need to be fast. Climate action requires many things to be done in concert, so collaboration is key to making real progress.
More effective collaboration has the potential to deliver more durable solutions in a faster time frame. Acting quickly has the added benefit of allowing time to prototype and pilot solutions, which increases the probability of developing refined approaches that work by the time they are needed.
Can you share some of the climate action projects Reos Partners is working on?
Reos is working on a number of diverse projects with key organizations in the climate action space. We’ve just begun partnering with a group of executives from some of the largest NGOs who work on climate action to support alignment and collaboration. We’ve also been working with The Nature Conservancy in a long-term project focused on natural resource stewardship by indigenous and local communities.
Another project has us working with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to support decarbonization of large commercial real estate in NYC and beyond. We are also collaborating with the Rockefeller Foundation to support the aggregated procurement of distributed renewable energy infrastructure to support renewable energy access in Africa.
What are the most effective methods you’ve experienced for advancing work in climate action?
Our projects use a blend of approaches including multi-stakeholder engagement and problem solving, overall strategy development, and a social lab approach to prototype and refine potential solutions. The social labs are effective because they're designed to deal with adaptive challenges where the path forward is not clear. This approach requires us to bring in a group of stakeholders who understand the problem, then invite them to work together to find a path through this uncertain landscape.
The key of the social lab is that it effectively helps guide a team through uncharted territory. Most of the climate focused projects we are involved in do not have obvious paths for the type of action that is going to achieve real progress.
Many organizations are making commitments to combat climate change. What are the most important and meaningful steps that organizations can take right now to make practical, timely progress?
While I am not a climate expert, I can offer my opinion based on the work I’ve been involved in with Reos Partners.
Organizations must first agree on the level of priority combating climate change is for them.
They should then focus on understanding the whole system: What is the current reality and where do their operations fit into the picture? This requires organizations to engage the imagination and determine what is possible.
Seeking input from their stakeholders, including their employees, will invite quicker progress by allowing them to work together to identify the problems and the solution set.
This collaboration invites learning by doing. Prototyping and piloting ideas is a crucial step to realize what works and what doesn’t. Together they can scale what works.
It’s important to regularly make data-based assessments about whether what is being done is working and operating at a speed and scale commensurate with the problem. If it is not working, pivot quickly.
A great number of challenges get in the way of progress on climate change. How do we work through these?
We need more effective work across stakeholder groups. Most of the actors, including the planet and its species, that are affected by climate change are not the shareholders of companies. Therefore, we need different processes to work with this wide array of stakeholders.
Another important component is information symmetry. We have to act quickly everywhere and therefore we cannot afford the time it takes for knowledge to spread organically. There needs to be a more intentional push. Especially around climate action where the volume of activity that needs to happen in parallel is very high, we have to actively connect people to what's happening elsewhere. We need to make sure that the best practice and best thinking is quickly spread to many, not just held by a few.
For instance, if every country needs to figure out how it's going to help its coastal cities impacted by rising ocean levels, or how agriculture needs to change as temperatures increase, we don't want it to be a sequence where the players are figuring things out and then sharing or selling that information to others. We need things to happen in parallel.
In general we need to establish “new rules of the game,” between rich and poor, north and south, public and private sectors.
How do we achieve more effective work across stakeholder groups?
The approach needs to take into account all the stakeholders. It's incorrect to design an approach that works for some people, maybe the people paying the bills or the people with the most power. It's more important to design an approach that includes the people who are typically much less represented in developing these solutions.
We've got to design processes that bring all the people who are impacted into a conversation together with the businesses and governments and other stakeholder groups. Most typically we design processes where people in power sit around together figuring out what should be done and then dictate those solutions to others. We have to design solutions that can work for everyone, not just those in positions of power.
What are the most important ways business leaders can engage to be part of the climate solution?
Business is a crucial tool for scaling solutions and figuring out what works and what doesn’t. It can be as simple as supporting their employees who are taking action. Similarly, markets can give strong signals and provide incentives for action, leaders in value-chains can support transformation of their suppliers, and the private sector can develop innovative solutions to key problems.