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For Leaders in Sustainability

This blog site seeks to set down many of the thoughts, tips and ideas I value within Sustainability and Environmental Leadership. Many have arisen directly through my day to day experience as a Corporate Environmental Executive and as a Sustainability Leadership Trainer and Coach. The areas of key focus will be within Business and Sustainability, Sustainability Leadership traits and tools, Environmental Leadership, Corporate Social Responsibility and EIA Leadership in Infrastructure Projects.

Welcome to my site!

Why We Need a Step Change in Sustainability Leadership

I believe that it is now impossible for business leaders, collectively as individuals and as management teams, to ignore the significant role they have to play in Sustainability. They are at the centre of many of the key decision making strategies that will ultimately influence Man’s response to climate change, unsustainable resource needs & the on-going damage to essential ecosystems. The solution is not more regulation! The solution lies in a new approach to responsible business leadership which understands the limitations of natural resources, and subsequently focuses on the opportunities and essential changes that they can make in their business activities to survive and prosper in an uncertian future economic climate. From experience, I see this as primarily the challenge in moving to a more globally sustainable mindset accompanied by a willingness to accept accountability for the culture and operational models of their teams and organisation.

The Sustainability Mindset

I have personally observed greater effectiveness and strategic thinking in Boardrooms when Business Executives, Operational Managers and Environmental Managers develop:

  • Greater understanding of the environmental priorities and unsustainable business issues facing thier organisation;
  • Heightened ability to forecast, visualise and strategise against emerging megatrends, societal issues and how thier brand or reputation will be impacted upon.
  • Greater understanding of responsible leadership and how it interacts with organisational change programmes;
  • Mindsets that take into account not only day to day (short-term) business pressures but which also make time for long-term strategic planning, and
  • The opportunity to move out of thier safety zone.(especially within slow-moving/inert/risk adverse/low innovation organisations)

It is becomming clearer and clearer that a greater understanding of sustainability issues and how to adapt leadership practices and tactics accordingly to address unsustainable economic and operational strategies has now become an essential skill set required within the repetoire of any progressive leader, leadership team or Board.

It has proven a successful model in helping leadership teams figure out critical issues, map thier value chains, help define success & risk in Investment/ strategic decision-making, maintain position & profile within thier business sector, raise awareness of client business concerns and in particular align shareholdersd and thier own corporate plans within a longer term business horizon

The Greatest Threats to Global Business Stability.

The 2019 World Economic Forum Global Risks Report identifies that Environment-related risks now account for first three of the top five risks by likelihood and four by impact facing business. Yet many business models still focus on short term financial and economic risks, important yes but not at the exclusion of the larger long-term risks emerging over the horizon!

The Top 10 risks likely to influence global business stability.

These are:

  • Extreme weather events
  • Failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation
  • Natural disasters
  • Data fraud or theft
  • Cyber-attacks
  • Man-made environmental disasters
  • Large-scale involuntary migration
  • Biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse
  • Water crises
  • Asset bubbles in a major economy

The Top 10 Business risks in terms of Impact and Disruption

In terms of business impact and disruption, the 2019 Report placed 7 of the Top 10 business risks are attributable to environmental or social impacts.

  • Weapons of mass destruction
  • Failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation
  • Extreme weather events
  • Water crises
  • Natural disasters
  • Biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse
  • Cyber-attacks
  • Critical information infrastructure breakdown
  • Man-made environmental disasters
  • Spread of infectious diseases

Why is this Report important. It reflects the direct responses of business leaders from around the world. In addition it marks a 10 year trend during which environmental and social risks have continued to rise steadily up the Table in awareness and importance within Boardrooms. This rise has edged aside many traditional economic and geo-political risks that have been debated. So why is a new approach to Responsible Management required, and why must Sustainability Leadership be part of this?

Without an awareness of the world’s growing sustainability issues, Boardrooms are in a poor leadership position to determine the optimal business strategy and response to the influence of such risks in the lists above. When Boardrooms and Organisational Leaders do pay attention to sustainability issues affecting their business and adopt a sustainability mindset they provide themselves with:

  • A greater awareness of the environmental and social interactions (trends, issues and risks) that influence their business, brands and services;
  • A set of principles, practices and processes integrating long-term economic growth with environmental and social governance
  • A strategic leadership approach for decision-making that provides a conceptual framework and practical tools for implementation
  • A means of safeguarding market share and long-term survival through innovation and change
  • Alignment with customer and employee values / worldview

‘Getting Green Done’

The majority of blogs, articles and postings on the internet focus on technical initiatives, actions and steps that can be taken to help leaders and managers reduce or safeguard thier CSR, regulatory or compliance programmes.  My interests, based on 25 years experiences as a corporate environmental executive within both the private and government environmental regulatory sectors, lie directly in helping organisational leaders and decision makers to be more effective in business through sustainability leadership advice, training and consultancy, helping them gain confidence in linking sustainability leadership with direct and profitable business practices, ie Getting Green Done.

Why?  because successful organisational change and culture originates from its leadership group, and without continious change and growth, no business survives the long-term pressures of the marketplace.

Ross Marshall

Leading Green

For Leaders in Sustainability

Recent Posts

Environmental Impact Assessment: Just another Project or a 1.5-aligned infrastructure strategic opportunity?

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The Future Challenge

Enormous amounts of upfront capital, rather than slow incremental investments, will be required within the next three decades if we are serious about delivering innovative infrastructure solutions and partnerships that limit climate change to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.  An earlier and better integrated understanding of climate change risks and impacts should help trigger this transformation.  However climate change and impact assessment professionals in general are rarely used to support the early investment phases of projects and seldom work closely with investors to significantly influence the climate change outcomes of a bespoke project.  Perhaps now is the time for a change?

Accessing the necessary finance for the development and delivery of large infrastructure projects is increasingly being tied into climate change impact funding, wider ESG considerations and increasingly the requirement to demonstrate the sustainability of the proposed investment upfront.  However, whilst there is a growing understanding of physical climate change, environmental and social impact risk within the investment community in the ‘development’ phase and also within the engineering community during the ‘delivery’ phase, the role of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) professional, and in particular specialists in climate change impact assessment (CCIA), should be becoming easier.  Yet there is often no strategic linkage in projects between what climate change conversations are influencing either community and the substance of those conversations in terms of funding impact.  Too often client communication, project management and procurement barriers halt the transfer of knowledge and break the continuity of professional advice.

Climate change is visibly starting to manifest itself in our lives through physical risks such as altered weather patterns, changes in rainfall intensities, coastal flooding through sea level rises, wildfires and drought.  The need to stabilise the global climate through collaboration between nations, and the activities on-going in human societies must soon start to deliver a pathway towards net-zero emissions as quickly as possible – globally by 2050 at the latest, if we are to stand any chance of addressing the issue and mitigating the risks.  The scale of the challenge means that there is very little time for investors, financiers, governments, client businesses and their infrastructure service teams to enact a radical shift in how critical infrastructure projects are brought through to delivery, and how climate risks are incorporated within the strategic decision steps necessary.

Large financing and pension investment institutions are already taking action as reflected within their reporting of climate risks, evaluation of portfolio exposure and in their consideration of impact assessment funding.  Insurers and the banking community are also being urged to adopt strategies that tie in scenario analysis within their business governance systems. Yet we still need greater debate of climate change risk and how it can be passed from funding concept into operational delivery.  This is where the EIA community has specialist knowledge and skills that can benefit both parties to a greater extent than at present.

Investment pressure and regulatory initiatives will undoubtably help place climate change considerations as an integrated component of any eventual capital release. No doubt making investor seekers aware of climate-related risks and how they are expected to present business cases that address and manage them will ultimately assist the longevity of their desired asset or development project.  How long it takes them to appreciate this as a ‘benefit’ is an interesting question!

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Yet with these changes happening slowly within the investment community, it is rare for the engineering project development team, and in particular the EIA/CCIA professionals to have been briefed on or be aware of what evaluation, commitment or agreement has previously been determined during financing talks, or what are commitments funders seek to implement within the terms of their own policies or agreements.  Both engineering and environmental teams often start from ‘scratch’ and whilst committed to project delivery may have different views on how that final outcome sits within the clients needs, the local environment, its legacy impact on that environment and its contribution to the client’s corporate sustainability policy or a 1.5-aligned climate change scenario.

This lack of information and awareness of the entire funding and delivery cycle wastes time, leads to unnecessary conflict, delay construction, consents and permits, and ultimate delay delivery time schedules.  The cost of obtaining upfront capital can be enormous – in some mega-projects it can cost the investment seeking government or private sector $billions, and yet the acquisition of detailed environmental information is often left to a distant point downstream.

It is acknowledged by many EIA professionals that when they are called into the financing and design debate. it is often too late to make a larger positive contribution – opportunities have been missed and the design process has become fixed on a solution that may be optimal to build but is not necessarily optimal in terms of its operational/construction carbon footprint, risk reduction and importantly deliverability through the consent and permitting process.  Indeed whilst vast sums are spent upstream during financing a project, money for environmental (and social) evaluation is often begrudgingly allocated into the delivery budget.

Budgeting for Climate Change advice

The EIA budget is often a small element of the entire budget – <0.25% during financing and <4% during construction delivery, yet its contribution is ultimately critical to success:

  • No statutory approval – No Project!
  • If the project is pushed through by governments for political reasons, the objection of its citizenry and the verification of adverse environmental impact can still terminate the project.
  • Even when they are pushed through regardless, the life and efficacy of the asset can ultimately be compromised – e.g. siltation behind dams reducing energy production, secondary impacts to other national industries and interests, reductions in agricultural productivity, etc can all mitigate against the ROI.
  • Too Climate change adverse – Future stranded asset!

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It makes sense therefore, that if we are serious about climate change risks to future well-being, and now accept that vast amounts of early upfront capital, rather than incremental investment, will be needed within the next 30 years to bring forward innovative solutions that help limit climate change to 1.5C, then we need to bring climate change experts into the funding discussions earlier.

Key investment decision makers with responsibility for capital will need additional help and support in evaluating climate change scenario risks and their associated impacts early on within their strategic evaluations.  Climate risk cannot be left to a random % point allocated into the risk pot by economists.  As the bullet points above demonstrate, they ultimately will be key to the projects life-cycle and longevity, and not just limited to project delivery.  The active steps taken from the start by implementing EIA and climate change risk advise and thinking into the project can have a significant positive effect on whether the project is sustainable or ultimately a stranded asset.

In these decisions, the financing and funding communities will need early impact assessment advice to a much greater extent than the Engineering project manager will when it is commissioned several years further down the project pipeline.  It is always a wise decision to invest upfront in the management of strategic risk, yet too often it seems that those with the most to lose fail to engage with the one group of experts that are comfortable in determining the significance of climate change impacts, the risk to delivery and whether the design strategy ensures future longevity of investment return.

Calling in the impact assessment community and the tools that define EIA ensures that the knowledge that will arise downstream in the delivery phases when seeking consent is brought upstream and earlier into play when strategic options are still open to debate. The EIA costs will have to be banked at some point in the process, it therefore makes sense to access its strategic information at the funding phases, and have it still available during then delivery phase.

In a recent series of workshops run by Leading Green, the five key areas in which senior IA professionals feel they can make the greatest contribution, benefit and leadership to a large infrastructure project were identified as:

  1. Embedding sustainability and env/soc thinking into decision-making, and being influencial in promoting environmentally (inc climate change) inclusive design.
  2. Defending the project outcomes when EIA & consenting elements are impacted on by engineering parameters.
  3. Ensuring that the voice of the EIA team are heard by the project team.
  4. Safeguarding client (internally) and stakeholder (externally) interests, and
  5. Leading thinking regarding operational and decision-making phases.

Points 1, 4 and 5 clearly have a strategic advantage to investors during the investment phase, whilst points 2 and 3 reflect the continued need for safeguarding client interest when the needs of the engineering project team  to deliver raise risk elements that threaten statutory delivery or the overall legacy risk profile of the investment.

missippi river st louis

So my advice is simple, start waking up to the role of EIA early as a design tool and investment guide for the funding decision maker.  In particular how it can assist you deliver a 1.5-aligned infrastructure strategic opportunity.  It makes much more strategic sense than letting your consultant project delivery team view its role solely as an additional project step and a ‘compliance’ tool for regulators!

 

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Leading Green offers its clients specialist advice, training and project management services in 3 key areas:

  1. Client Project Board representation & specialist environmental support in Infrastructure Investment Programmes & Projects (investment planning, site acquisition, project planning, construction and delivery) for large-scale built infrastructure and asset management programmes – Governance, Risk Management, EIA/ESIA & SEA, climate change adaptation strategies, sustainability and stakeholder risk management.
  2. Support to Executive & Operational leadership teams as they develop and deliver environmental and sustainability strategies.
  3. Environmental Leadership & Sustainability in Business training programmes.
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