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By: Vivi Melkonian
Turn on any weather channel and the ominous reports pour in from across the world: hurricanes, flooding, and (soon) blizzards. All of which greatly affect the business world, with operations slowed or forced to shut down, and employees stranded at home or worse. Indeed, by one estimate, US offices and retailers lost more than 3 million days of operation due to various natural disasters.
But by the looks of it, businesses have some catching up to do. According to data from S&P Global, only one in five companies has plans to adapt to climate-related risks. Part of the problem, of course, is that it’s hard to create strategies and operations around events so unpredictable. But experts say leaders also have trouble focusing on weather with so many other outside problems—inflation, wars—on the table.
“Climate change isn’t a hypothetical, niche issue anymore. It’s about resiliency now, which is a leadership matter,” says Kate Shattuck, managing partner of Korn Ferry’s Philadelphia office and founder and global coleader of the firm’s Impact Investing, ESG and Sustainability practice. In response, experts say even if disasters themselves might be unpredictable, existing climate data can guide an organization’s preparations. “Every business needs to think about their exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity to climate change,” says Susanne Moser, an environmental research consultant and contributor to the bestselling book All We Can Save. “We have to adapt to what is, and we have to prepare for what is coming,” says Moser.
Part of prevention and climate preparation should involve focusing on employees. Climate issues can affect everything from safe commutes to air quality, and can impact people differently. Brian Bloom, Korn Ferry’s vice president of global benefits and mobility operations, says more firms are becoming flexible with workers in order to deal with the natural disaster of the moment. Too often, companies have left it to the employees to maintain their focus on operations amid the physical and emotional toll. “Employees don’t need someone trying to micromanage their safety and well-being in an emergency,” says Bloom. “They need leaders who lead with empathy and build communities around those who are impacted.”
And part of that leadership is identifying needs for both those coming to the office and those working remotely, experts say. That includes, among other things, providing masks and filtration units to deal with smog pollution and making sure remote workers have backup plans ready, says Cheryl D’Cruz-Young, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s ESG Center of Expertise. “The ability to work remotely is a fundamental part of disaster response,” she says.