Climate Change transition can be hard to identify within the operational investment plans within some oil & gas giants.
At the IAIA 2019 conference in Brisbane last week, several authors delivered papers on current & future oil + gas investment projects and programmes that would be rolled out over the next decade. The local press was also reporting on new coal investment plans for Queensland, and within a 2-day Leadership in EIA training programme I led with Claire Gronow of Bristol University in Brisbane, several of the course’s experienced EIA participants were employees or IFC/Government officials with oversight of new fossil fuel projects coming through the investment chain.
Yes, they were all dealing diligently with any environmental & social risks arising on site, but it was hard to define any clear signs of climate change transition or adaptation within the corporate business strategies of their parent companies, or any corporate shift away from fossil fuel exploitation.
This concern has been backed up by analysis from Global Witness in April that identified close to $5 trillion of planned investment in exploration and extraction from new oil & gas fields. This the authors concluded is incompatible with reaching the world’s climate goals. The report also concluded that despite rhetoric to the contrary, the oil and gas sector’s future investment plans remain drastically incompatible with limiting climate change.
From recent experience, I concur with these unfortunate conclusions. If politicians and businesses are increasingly tempted to use the word ‘emergency’ in respect of climate change, there is an obligation on them to demonstrate thier own response and strategic action they are taking to address the ‘emergency’. As sustainability and IA professionals we are working hard to mitigate the unintended consequences of Man’s exploitation of cheap carbon-based energy and advocating for greater sustainability within business practices. Future climate change transition now requires more than advocacy, it demands action and a strategic shift in the mindset of Governments and Boardroom leaders. The solutions and advice are out there to be called upon, but action is an individual responsibility.
My company Leading Green is based on my strong belief that Business leaders and organisations that integrate sustainability into their business thinking and leadership culture will benefit in the long-term through a better strategic mindset for future growth, higher investor interest, capital investment delivery and ultimately a lower corporate risk profile that delivers long term financial value with innovation and market branding.
It was therefore of interest to read in a recent edition of GreenBuzz that Moody’s, one of the world’s leading credit rating agencies had proposed a scoring framework for assessing carbon transition risk. This will be of interest in evaluating the transition towards a low carbon future of some of the more energy intensive or dependent sectors, and especially those past investments are at risk of being stranded as the implications of climate change extend into the most world’s most obstinate boardrooms.
Impact Assessment (IA) professionals have for many years grappled with the problem of how one multi-$billion or $million investment will impact on a region’s or society’s air quality or climate change footprint, looking at proposed investments in terms of their solo contributions, and struggling to truly evaluate their cumulative impacts. Tools such as Technology Impact Assessment allow us to evaluate with greater visibility and transparency the global benefits or negatives of technology as we shift towards a lower carbon economy.
The move by Moody’s is of interest to IA and ESG
professionals in that it could herald the start of an investment trend that
better identifies credit risk, business strategies and capital investment
opportunities with an ESG’s financial value assessment. Many ESG and IA assessment approaches &
models are at risk of focusing too much on the identification of social &
ethical values rather than a more comprehensive evaluation of an investors or
multi$ project proponent’s understanding of how environmental and social
factors impact on the core financial objectives of the project. If you want a case in point look at the
global investments for large hydro-power schemes and how far apart the early
assessments of project costs are from their final ‘constructed’ costs (often by
factors of $billions) and how often their project timescales were delayed
(>years). A reflection of the investor
and lender’s reluctance to assess environmental and social risks earlier in the
investment cycle and to clarify the upstream linkage between social and
environmental parameters and financial risk.
Carbon transition within investment portfolios, organisations
and within technology/marketplace sectors must become, and is increasingly
likely to become, a core parameter within the global society’s climate change
adaptation and how the continuing flows of investment capital will impact on
future growth and carbon release. If
organisations and government are slow to react to risk and carbon transition,
then perhaps a more risk adverse appetite amongst financial lenders and
investors will prevent much of the downstream arguments between society and
business that prevent capital projects and asset investments gaining the one
thing that they all require – consent to build the proposed asset.
It was of interest to read in the article that Moody’s defines carbon transition risk as the implications of the policy, legal, technology and market changes that are likely to affect a company in its transition to a lower-carbon economy. These are the often the intangible vales that lie outside traditional boardroom thinking and rarely make it into formal financial risk analysis, credit ratings or creditworthiness. Moody’s propose a 10-point scale across four key components that seeks to identify an organisations credit risk and transition towards carbon transition. The will help reflect 4 key parameters:
its current business profile (survivability in the current marketplace);
its technology, market and policy exposure (risk of stranded assets, exposure to disruptive technology and societal megatrends);
its medium-term response activities (is its boardroom awake to the risks!); and
its longer-term resilience (potential for value and growth).
This is a move to be welcomed as the development of
comprehensive ESG models is still in its infancy, as is the marketplace’s
understanding of them and their ability to drive better financial decision
making. In addition, it starts to
position IA and ESG as ‘active’ tools that enhance decision-making rather than
their often perceived ‘negative’ image as blockages to investment fluidity and
choice. It also starts to open to the
marketplace the maturity of some boardrooms towards social, environmental and
carbon/climate risks and how they are perceived. Many ESG reports often contain performance
data on ESG issues that masks any real cultural or leadership change towards
sustainability in business and environmental risk management. If you want evidence on this, just look at
how many organisations there are out there who have held environmental certification
under ISO14001 for many years, but who are now struggling to re-certify to the
new standard that requires auditable proof of linkage within their
organisations between the executive leadership groups and their organisation’s
environmental risk performance.
So, the takeaway message is what is the long-term strategic value for organisational leaders in better aligning sustainability, environmental risk or carbon adaptation/transition strategies within their core corporate and investment planning strategies. It is becoming increasing clear to sustainability advisers, chief financial officers, some CEOs and their Boards that in the future organisations with higher ESG ratings and a strategic mindset to sustainability in business are likely to experience lower exposure to disruptive market risks, protect asset investments or at least minimise stranded asset investments within portfolios avoiding large drawdowns, and lower risk within their sector or marketplace.
If Moody’s initiative is a success it will also reinforce these benefits through lower cost of capital and higher investor interest, in particular the type of investor who is likely to take a longer, rather than a shorter, term interest in your organisation’s financial health and growth.
An organization full of employees who believe they belong is an
organization full of employees who feel purposeful, inspired and alive — in
other words, engaged. These engaged employees are more productive and better
Many organisations are seeking to integrate environmental compliance and
management processes into their ways of working, and several are attempting to
drive sustainability into their cultural DNA!
To achieve this, they are enlisting a new group of employees – the environmental
or sustainability specialist – as change managers. Many are having spectacular success in
altering the organisational beliefs, ways of working and the mindset of their
organisations. In the course of which
they deliver a new lease of commercial life in their sectors and marketplace, but
others are failing as they become dispirited with entrenched leadership attitudes,
lack of accountability and on occasion evidence of organisational acceptance of
illegal or unethical practices.
No company is perfect and on many occasions the change management
activities that are required to embed sustainability issues and thinking into organisations
can feel like draining the Atlantic Ocean with just a recycled Starbucks coffee
cup for help! That is why I was
surprised in one recent mentoring session on how dismayed a young sustainability
adviser was with her career choice.
No one said entering the environmental profession would be an easy one
or a free pass to career success. You
are after all trying to bring in a new mindset into business before the
traditional mindset impacts too severely on the lives and prosperity of people
and their environments! The challenge
and the excitement of the role and ultimately why you are here in these
positions are why most of us get out of bed each morning.
We analysed some of the problems she faced and then took them apart to
examine the specific issues that were causing her so much grief in detail:
Some were clearly based around her lack
of experience and could be rectified through training and development coaching;
Some were based simply around her lack
of misunderstanding of how the industry operated and could be rectified through
the identification of a suitable internal mentor to be a guide and someone she
could bounce her future ideas off in advance, and
In one scenario it was clear that she had
mis-communicated badly her case to a group of managers. She had used technical jargon familiar to
sustainability professionals but new to the audience and lost them. She hadn’t aligned her case close enough to
corporate outcomes to interest them and as a result had made an unpersuasive argument
for change. These again could be
rectified through further coaching and mentoring.
But in a couple of situations the issues were clear and the challenges
she faced significant. Despite her best
endeavours, there were several key sustainability issues where she felt that
her efforts were being purposely disregarded, where the context of sustainability
claims were being manipulated for greenwashing/marketing purposes without organisational
evidence. Whilst these indicated a lack
of responsible leadership or management in those above her, ultimately our conversation
had to address a cruel set of question that only she could answer:
Had her contribution as an employee hit
a rough patch on these issues that she could work through with time and support?
Could she live with the unethical or non-environmental
behaviours and with time correct them?
Had she reached a performance plateau in
how far she could take this company in terms of her own sustainability vision against
the willingness of the people within the organisation to change?
Was she still excited by the role – or
was it time for someone else to take up the reins and try it their way?
Should she move on and find a new
Ethics and strong values underline an environmental or sustainability
professional’s career choice. Many of us
remain optimistic and holds an altruistic view on how business can work in economic
and social partnership with the rest of society for the economic betterment of
all. Your work is integral, not only to
how you see the world, but how your chosen sector or employer actively improves
their environmental or sustainability performance into the future as core business
So, when your employer makes headlines for the wrong environmental reasons
or continues to act in an unsustainable manner contradicting its stated polies should
you look for a new role with a new employer? To figure that out, you need to closely
examine your emotional relationship with your work and with your employer:
Do your employers continue to act in
the knowledge of the social and environmental impacts they are accountable for?
Where is the redline before they will seek
to correct the issue?
If the issue blows up due to regulatory
or negative publicity, will you be innocent of any wrongdoing or culpability?
Dependent on your answers you may not need to leave, many companies
weather small environmental scandals and they are often a golden opportunity to
enhance changes in behaviour – simply put don’t waste a crisis but be aware of
how such situations could damage your reputation.
At the end of the day and to repeat the starting paragraph – An
organization full of employees who believe they belong is an organization full
of employees who feel purposeful, inspired and alive — in other words,
engaged. And these engaged employees are more productive and better performers.
Ultimately you must consider your own job satisfaction, your well-being,
career prospects and future development if you stay. If the company’s actions (or inactions)
violate your moral and professional code of conduct, then you may need to take
a professional stand and move on.
If you do decide to leave, be ready to answer the obvious question ‘Why did you leave your last employer’ from the next HR or recruiting manager. Prepare an answer in advance that acknowledges the organisational risks you identified, the actions you sought to take for that organisation’s benefit, how you personally felt your values and ethics were being compromised by the management responses received and seek to distances yourself from their behaviours. Turn it back on the recruiter as a first step in what sort of professional they are hiring – How would this company deal with such an issue? It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business consulting encourages our clients to look closely at their own internal leadership strengths and goals. Helping them adopt an inquisitive state of mind and supporting them in how sustainability can support their long-term business strategy. In addition we provide a confidential mentoring and coaching services to new and experienced professionals seeking to enhance thier performance and skill sets.
‘EIA Project Managers focus on project targets and processes, EIA Leaders focus on project outcomes’
I believe this to be one of the fundamental mindsets that leaders in EIA possess, and a factor that helps them move up a tier in the profession. The right leadership in the environment of today’s project management world is crucial to providing a clear path and vision for attaining organizational as well as sustainability goals. In the EIA and infrastructure development world, it is also about creating agile teams with S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely) goals backed up by effective team management skills to execute desired outcomes effectively and to become more agile in their approach in handling uncertainties within IA and its related assessments.
As a EIA leader you are ultimately measured on one thing — the results that you deliver within the project scope. Given this ultimate measure and its wider importance to local communities and society in general, it is vital that you are outcomes focussed from the start (pun intended!).
So what are the key benefits of being an outcome focussed EIA Team Leader? As I see it there are 5 key benefits.
If you are crystal clear what you want and where you want to take the project, issue or project team during the project, it becomes much easier to communicate it to those that you are interacting with or leading. If you can communicate an inspiring vision for the future, you are much more likely to get project managers, engineers and team members to support you in translating this into design options and ultimately reality.
Benefit 2: Time
No one has ‘too much’ time in projects, it is a rare luxury in our or any profession involved in infrastructure and construction. It is how we use that time that makes the critical difference. When you are outcomes focussed, you spend your time on those areas that are likely to leverage the greatest benefits for yourself as a leader, for the EIA and for the wider project.
Benefit 3: Big picture
It is all too easy, especially in times of project challenge to become obsessed with the detail and trivial stuff. During these periods it is easy to lose sight of the big picture – reducing residual impacts and promoting sustainable development. Being outcome focussed helps you remember the big picture and what you want to achieve for the project, the project team, for your organisation and for you personally as an advocate of sustainable development.
Benefit 4: Planning
They say that failing to plan is planning to fail. If you are clear about what you want to accomplish, it becomes much easier to plan what you are doing, when you are doing it and how you will achieve it. When you sit down to work out EIA priorities you can simply ask yourself – ‘will this move me closer to the outcome I want?’.
Benefit 5: Results
EIA Leaders that focus on the outcomes get more done and as a result deliver better EIA outcomes for society. As you achieve one result, it will act as a reinforcement and motivation to achieve more – this helps start and reinforce the leadership cycle within you.
The take away message — Being outcomes focussed can lift your EIA performance and your own brand of EIA leadership to a new level. So start considering the formal and infomal roles that EIA leaders fulfil in projects and what steps can you can personally take to re-focus on outcomes?
At Leading Green, our approach to environmental leadership mentoring & training encourages our clients to look closely at their own internal leadership strengths and goals. Helping them adopt an inquisitive state of mind and supporting them in how sustainability can support their long-term business strategy. We run the only EIA leadership course that has been accepted for delivery by the Internation Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) at thier annual conference.
In the late ‘80s I entered the Power Industry. I was tasked with helping ScottishPower set up its first environmental team. There were no rules, little supervision and precious few guidelines on ‘how to get green done’. My MD’s first words to me were on the rabbits at the bottom of his garden – no doubt a fascinating topic to this new breed of non-engineering employee!
Soon after this I was working with one of the older mechanical engineers on an air dispersion model for a proposed waste-to-energy plant. I used an early ADMS computer programme, he achieved comparable results on the back of an envelope! I was bemoaning my lack of experience in this area and the difficulties I faced relating the result to potential dioxin dispersion, and how I would incorporate the results into the Environmental Impact Assessment.
‘Experience’ he gently said, ‘Experience is only gained through facing up to your lack of experience!’ A great lesson from a highly intelligent and modest man.
Now after 25 years’ experience in environmental impact assessment, management and sustainability I find myself addressing 3 common themes again and again with new sustainability and environmental managers during mentoring discussions:
1. You don’t have to
‘The more you know, the less you know’. As you grow in confidence and knowledge the questions get bigger as new areas open, new linkages are found, and solutions open further avenues of mental exploration. No one person can ever understand the complexity of ‘the environment’ – for heaven’s sake we don’t even possess an internationally recognised definition for the word. We must accept that often what we face is novel, specific to that location and has a mass of intangibles tied up with it.
You must come to accept that in some areas you will alays remain a ‘professional generalist’ – able to cover a wide spectrum of environmental topics, expert in some but only touching the surface of others.
What’s the solution – learn to ask others for help! It isn’t weakness it is a strength that will pay back dividends if managed carefully. I have worked with many great environmentalists and engineers on a large variety of complex large infrastructure and sustainability management projects. I have been thrown into stakeholder bearpits, investment board meetings and national emergencies such as flooding, food & Mouth epidemics and terrorist incidents. There is no previously written guidebook on how to manage, but the best possible approach is to surround yourself with, or have access to, those that can add to the jigsaw solution. If you don’t know the answer, the best route is always to say either ‘I don’t know but I will find out and come back to you on that issue’; ‘Do any of you know the answer to this’ or ‘Can you engineer me a better solution with these outcomes’.
Rather than losing trust by displaying ignorance, it builds trust as you solve complex problems as a team, your colleagues comes to realise that they are dealing with a professional who understands the risk in, and limitations of, their knowledge, is prepared to say so honestly and work with others co-operatively to find a solution. The worst thing you can do is bluster or pretend that you fully understand all the parameters of the dilemma. No one expects you to know everything. Relax. And ask open questions that may stimulate the answer through others. Try it!
2. My problem is unique.
I have seen young managers work themselves into a state
because they feel that they are the only one at this coalface. The organisational culture is unique, the
problem is unique and hence the solution must be unique. They feel that the problems they face are so
specific to them, so much so that external advice or options will not help.
What is the solution
– You can internalise a problem and hope that your mental skills set can find a
solution, or you can externalise a problem and gain help? Whichever route you take the responsibility
for solving the problem remains with you and must be ultimately owned by you as
the leader. Personally, I often enjoy
switching into an external mindset when debating problems and potential
solutions, I want to hear how others think about the issue, what they suggest
and what experiences they can bring to the table. I also data mine externally looking at how
other organisations have addressed the issue to gain ideas. I then go back and work through the new
information, sifting for ideas and a solution that fits before taking the
decision to press forward again.
As Tom Lehrer in 1953 so aptly put it about the secret of being
a successful mathematician:
‘Plagiarize! Let no one else’s
work evade your eyes
Remember why the good Lord made your eyes
So, don’t shade your eyes but plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize
Only be sure always to call it please ‘research’!”
This has helped me find solutions to laying underground electricity cables in water pipeline technology, decision making models via the car industry, and ecological answers in hardware shops. Keep your problem-solving radar active and never let a good idea pass you by!
Your responsibility ultimately lies in making the decision on
how the organisation progresses, you can’t duck this, and the decision risk should
always remain with you as the accountable leaders. You can make decisions via committee but
watch out for group think and consensus through banality. The most appropriate approach is often to
cast widely, listen to what others have to say, challenge their assumptions
(try playing the Devil’s Advocate in conversations) and ultimately select the
one that you can confidently deliver on through your abilities, resources and organisational
3. Are you following your ideas at the expense
of working for the best interests of the organisation?
have seen young professionals run into a mental wall when their goals are
dashed through organisational inertia to change. I have experienced it myself at times, and it
can set you back mentally and physically when an organisation refuses to change
its preferred ways of working.
Then is the time to take a good long hard look in the mirror … were you following your own preferred agenda or in the best interests of the organisation. Had you planned sufficiently, had you sold the idea to others, sufficiently and ultimately would it have added value? I have seen environmental and general managers pursue microcosm agendas that no one else in the organisation believes in or understands. As a Case Study, a previous Director who fixated on the cost of biscuits served in meetings whilst his division’s budget was cut… we wanted strategic changes, he wanted Rich Tea biscuits.
have on occasions advised environmental managers to look hard at their priorities,
not only through an environmental lens but also what it will mean in terms of
enterprise risk management, the corporate plan. Internal budgets, brand and
stakeholder benefits. Incorporating
these factors into your sustainability agenda helps prioritise action, expands
your organisational worldview, forces you to seek input from others and to
understand how their cog spins in the corporate machine and who they interface
What is the solution – Ask yourself whose sustainability agenda are you working on and what is the desired outcome? Is it your own preference, added value for the organizations or the world? These objectives are not either/or options they interact, but there are trade-offs, and ultimately your focus must be on the operational, economic and sustainability of the organisation that employs you. That doesn’t mean that you say ‘yes’ to everything. You are there after all to bring through cultural change management towards a more sustainable operating business model. But in organisational life there are often trade-offs that need to be considered, and these may require you to put aside your personal sustainability agenda for the moment and get stuck into the priorities of others in the business. Similarly pursuing a radical sustainability agenda will not be in the best interest of a company if no one understands its value, instead a more strategic, leading-but-not-agitating approach may take you further. Whatever your agenda, the preferred legacy is that your colleagues adopt the initiative into their personal worldview, live it and hopefully pass it on others – that is success in sustainability leadership book!
At Leading Green, our approach to sustainability in business consulting encourages our clients to look closely at their own internal leadership strengths and goals. Helping them adopt an inquisitive state of mind and supporting them in how sustainability can support their long-term business strategy.