February 25, 2019

Pulling Together for Climate Resiliency

Joel Nodelman

About the Author

Joel is an engineer and risk management specialist with over forty years of professional practice. He is committed to helping his clients achieve climate resiliency and sustainability.

Mainstreaming Climate Resiliency

The secret is to work less as individuals and more as a team.

  •  – Knute Rockne –

One of my biggest concerns in climate change resiliency work is the emphasis on assessment tools. In this commentary, I focus on pulling together for climate resiliency, making climate resiliency core business. When organizations view climate resiliency as a mainstream activity, the entire team can pull together. This perspective allows the team to deliver safer, more reliable, and successful operations. The organization is not only buffered against extreme weather events but better placed to pursue new business strategies.

Pulling Together to Make Resiliency More Concrete

While risk assessment tends to give good insight, we can focus too narrowly on this one element of a robust risk management process. Assessing risk is an important task. However, undue emphasis on the assessment process tends to treat it as a stand-alone task. The work is something we do once, and then move on to other, more pressing issues, more aligned with our core business objectives.

With this perspective, it is hard to make climate resiliency work real, for real people. It remains abstract.

Climate change is a future threat that has no bearing on our lives today.

We need to make climate resiliency work more concrete, bringing it into the real world. Once folks begin to understand the issues, threats, and opportunities, it becomes much more straightforward to integrate resiliency work into the mainstream. Only then, will organizations, decision-makers, staff, and the folks that depend on safe, reliable service be protected from climate risks and be prepared to capitalize on opportunities. When teams are pulling together for climate resiliency, good things happen.

Standards Help Us Pull Together

In previous postings, we stressed our belief in holistic risk management, especially when it comes to climate resiliency work. However, how is this done?

Fortunately, you are not alone. Over the last decade or so, standards associations have published guidance on how to implement holistic risk management. More precisely, they provide advice on establishing enterprise risk management (ERM).

pulling together for climate resiliency
Pulling Together in a World Fraught with Climate Uncertainty

ERM views risk as both negative and positive. Negative risk encompasses all of the hazards that we face, day-to-day. Positive risk is more speculative, addressing the potential for gains, such as strategic opportunities and superior financial performance. This perspective is significant, as it allows us to treat organizational risks as an integrated whole. We can balance threats and opportunities. In this way, we can establish global priorities that enable us to manage the overall risk profile of the organization efficiently. Climate resiliency is merely one more risk factor to blend into the balance.

ERM allows us mainstream resiliency work, and establish priorities that reflect the business objectives of the organization. Consequently, the entire team can pull together to optimize organizational performance, even in a world fraught with climate uncertainty.

ISO 31000 and Cliamte Resilicny

Many folks think that ISO 31000 is merely a risk assessment tool. However, it is so much more than this. In fact, in the ISO 31000 series of standards outline the actual risk assessment methodologies in a supporting document, ISO 31010 – Risk Assessment Techniques. While ISO 31000 outlines factors organizations should consider in risk assessment, it does not detail methodologies. ISO leaves this task to ISO 31010.

While ISO 31000 is not a risk assessment manual, it does provide detailed guidance on how to establish effective risk management processes across an organization. Thus, the standard outlines the necessity to develop a risk management framework, encompassing:

  • Leadership and commitment;
  • Integration across the organization;
  • Program design;
  • Implementation; and
  • Continual Improvement.

Also, ISO 31000 emphasizes a process that encompasses:

  • Communication and consultation across the organization;
  • Defining risk criteria for the organization;
  • Risk Assessment;
  • Risk Treatment;
  • Ongoing monitoring; and
  • Reporting.

Notably, risk assessment is only one small, but essential, element of this multi-faceted process.

Addressing climate resiliency through the ISO 31000 lens allows integration of climate issues into the organization’s overall risk portfolios. We evaluate resiliency using the same criteria that we apply to every other risk in the organization. Thus, when we establish priorities for our resiliency work, they align with overall organizational objectives. Decision-makers understand our recommendations in a global context. Consequently, rank and file employees are better able to buy in and do the work. As the team pulls together, climate resiliency becomes core business.

COSO ERM and Climate Resiliency

COSO ERM establishes a similar risk management framework as ISO 31000, though its foundation is based more on financial and business risk than on hazard risk. Even so, COSO ERM is an excellent alternative to ISO 31000.

COSO is particularly suited to organizations that focus on strategic, business, and financial objectives. Essentially, COSO is very well suited to organizations that have fewer operational, hazard risks. These organizations may still face resiliency issues that impact their operational objectives and financial security. In this way, climate resiliency should be core business for all organizations, not merely those with significant hard assets.

COSO guides organizations in establishing a risk management framework that comprises five elements:

  • Governance and culture;
  • Strategy and objective setting;
  • Performance;
  • Review and revision; and
  • Information, communication, and reporting.

COSO incorporates risk assessment within the Performance element of the COSO framework. As in ISO 31000, COSO does not provide detailed risk assessment methodologies. Instead, the standard offers overall criteria that establish the requirements of an acceptable assessment process. Also, as in ISO 31000, COSO encourages the integration of all risks within one overarching risk framework.

For climate resiliency work COSO offers organizations another approach for integrating climate risk within an overall portfolio of risks. In this way, organizations can evaluate all risks based on a standard set of risk criteria. Resiliency objectives will align with other priorities in the organization. Decision-makers can evaluate resiliency options based on standard processes. Again, rank and file employees are better equipped to buy into the resiliency program and do the work. As the team is pulling together for climate resiliency, it becomes core business. The organization is better prepared to succeed.

Empowering Pulling Together for Climate Resiliency

Make it Real!

As climate resiliency specialists, we must make our work real, for real people. Unfortunately, in most climate assessment work, the risks can be very abstract. Typically, we project weather hazards based on complex and esoteric models. As a result, our work confronts the climate debate head-on. Folks often resist our climate change messaging, and confront us, sometimes very aggressively. How do we overcome this resistance?

Over the years I have come to believe that the answer lies in providing context. While we are fundamentally committed to climate resiliency, we think that our work must blend into an organization’s overall portfolio of risks, priorities, and strategies. We must prioritize our recommendations based on the same criteria applied to any other organizational risk. As such, resiliency work must fit within the core business of the organization. If it doesn’t, our work becomes merely another dusty old report, a one-time project. It is done and gone! When this happens, we are not providing superior service to our clients. It is only when the work transcends abstract concepts to become concrete actions that true resiliency occurs.

We believe that ERM standards provide a solid foundation to make climate resiliency work concrete. Though the use of ERM principles, we can insert resiliency into the overall portfolio of organizational risks. This approach may seem to diminish the importance of resiliency work. However, we believe that only by mainstreaming these issues, will they ultimately be addressed in a fulsome, and holistic, way. ERM provides corporate direction that empowers pulling together for climate resiliency, making it core business.

Final Thoughts

pulling together for climate resiliency
Pulling Together to Ensure a Safe, Reliable, and Financially Secure Operation

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Let’s make climate resiliency a mainstream business and engineering focus. We need to make resiliency real, for real people. We are not alone in this work. ERM standards can guide the way forward on climate resiliency work, allowing us to insert climate resiliency into the core business. When organizations establish a risk management framework, they can integrate resiliency into mainstream business. Based on clear objectives, staff can pull together to ensure a safe, reliable, and financially secure operation.

Call to Action To Empower Pulling Together for Climate Resiliency

Again, you are not alone. There are folks here to help you out. Seek the advice of climate risk and resiliency experts. Check out the standards and see how you might adapt them for your organization. Above all else, let’s all pull together to make climate resiliency core business.

We provide ongoing commentary on these issues. Feel free to contact us, we are always happy to discuss your climate, risk and resiliency.

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