A Small Business Case for Climate Action

A Small Business Case for Climate Action

Over this week, thousands will travel down to New York City to take part in what is being called Climate Week.  The festivities will begin on Sunday with thousands marching in the streets to demand bold solutions to the climate catastrophe. Later in the week, leaders from around the world will congregate at the United Nations to share their goals heading into the 2015 UN Climate Summit in Paris where the outcome has the largest opportunity to set the new precedent for a global climate treaty.

The Climate Action Liaison Coalition, a group of business leaders from Boston, will be boarding busses and trains to join the week of action. Businesses may not be the first group that comes to mind when you think of climate advocates. CALC’S members aim to take targeted action on climate change by championing the voice of sustainable business leaders.

Susan Labandibar from Tech Networks of Boston, CALC’s founding business, is one of the business owners who will be making the trip down to New York on behalf of her IT Services Company. Susan will be traveling with CALC Executive Director, Quinton Zondervan who will be representing the association at the Secretary General’s Summit later in the week. Combined, their unique perspective shares a strong case on the importance of small businesses role in the climate movement.

IT Support Services on a Mission
Susan Labandibar

There’s the obvious reason for why a business owner should travel down to Climate Week. Small business owners are like most people. We want to leave this world little better than we found it. And climate change is making it harder and harder for us to live that narrative.

But there’s another, less obvious reason that is tied to a small business owner’s need to navigate change and mitigate risk on behalf of the business. Those of us that survive and thrive ten or (gulp!) in my case over twenty years are necessarily thinking long term. As a small business owner working on transitioning my business to my employees, I can’t help but wonder: Will my IT services business even be able to function in ten or twenty years time? Or is our economic future inextricably linked to our climate future?

When I join the People’s Climate March, I’ll be marching with hundreds of thousands who share my fears about our future. I’ll be carrying a sign that says: “Climate Change is Risky Business.” Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is one of the co-sponsors of a recently released report by that name. He calls climate change one of the biggest market failures the world has ever seen.

“The first human to live to 150 is alive today,” according to a Prudential Insurance company billboard campaign. Is it possible, likely, or even desirable that the human lifespan be extended while other species go extinct at 2,000 the normal rate? While Prudential’s actuaries are urging workers to plan for a long retirement, I’m wondering what to tell my employees. Will the economic system as we know it even exist when our 18-year-old desktop support technicians reach 65? How can I possibly answer that question for them? I can’t even tell them whether we’ll be on dry ground. According to the latest sea level rise projections, by 2060, low-lying areas of Boston such our office location could be submerged under 2-4 feet of water every time there is a powerful Nor’easter.

For me, the People’s Climate March is not just one massive outcry. Together, we will demand real solutions to the climate crisis. We know that our economic system must be restructured from the ground up to create health and happiness for all. At the People’s Climate March, I’m looking for the courage and vision necessary to inspire my employees and to move my business forward as we navigate together towards an uncertain future.

An Important Part of the Movement
Quinton Zondervan

I was telling a friend that I’m attending the Climate Week in New York City starting on September 21. He was amazed that I would take a bus ride 4+ hours each way just to march around the city for a few hours. I told him there’s no place I’d rather be.

I’m a successful businessman and entrepreneur. My knowledge and skills are worth a lot of money in the internet economy. Why should I concern myself with climate change? I could be out there making money, spending money, enjoying exotic cars and exotic vacations with my family, and shrug off the end of civilization as we know it as just another ho-hum event. Happens all the time. Civilizations rise and fall, species come and go, people die. Who cares?

Well, I’m not that kind of businessman. When I run a business, I do care. I care about the employees who work for me. I care about the customers who want to buy a quality product. I care about my investors who want to see a healthy return. And I care about the people who will inherit my responsibilities, as someone inevitably will, and I want them to inherit a healthy business with excellent future prospects.

So let’s treat the Earth as a business for a moment. A business we are collectively in charge of as human beings. So how are we doing? Well, the employees are not doing so great. Some are doing very well, of course, but most are barely getting by. Since our employees are also our customers, this is a problem; if too many of them remain poor for too long, our business is in trouble. And what about the future?

Those who will inherit our responsibilities despair of having to manage a business in deep deep trouble when their turn comes. They’ll have to deal with rising seas inundating sweltering cities. They’ll have to deal with trying to feed a growing population using shrinking per capita land available. They’ll have to fend off infectious diseases, invading species and superweeds. The list goes on and on. In what accounting system is this a healthy business?

Fine, you say, but how is marching in New York going to change any of this? As human beings we have a lot of cognitive biases. Social science is getting better and better at measuring and describing these biases and holding them up to us as a mirror. One of our biases is called “confirmation bias”. Basically we prefer to see evidence of what we already believe. And most of us grew up believing that “growth is good” and that human kind is the “pinnacle of creation,” destined to escape the limits and boundaries of nature.

It will not be easy to change these beliefs, even though we know they are now wrong.

To succeed, we have to use our only psychology against ourselves. People are more inclined to listen when serious, successful, respectable members of society, such as talented business leaders, are saying something. Especially when lots of them are saying it. Especially when lots of them are saying it together, in New York City, miles away from their homes and families, on a Sunday.

Let’s be clear: business as usual, is no longer good enough. Selling out the future for short-term gain in the present is no longer acceptable. Destroying the planet is not a good way to make a profit. There are plenty of better ways to do business. CALC plans to take this message to the People’s Climate March to the UN Secretary Generals Meeting later in the week. To us, this is a fantastic business opportunity. It’s an opportunity to pitch the future.