Culture shock

Climate culture shock is coming

My News Feed — and probably your News Feed, too — is full of stories about professional workers returning to their offices this summer. What the great involuntary experience of the pandemic has shown is that the structure of work is not just a habit, it is a culture.

Work culture varies not only from industry to industry, but also from company to company, and sometimes even from worker to worker. Citigroup Inc. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., for example, have their world headquarters a few blocks from each other in Manhattan, but are miles apart when it comes to their workplace policies – hybrid and report to your desk, respectively. Meanwhile, young professionals fear missing out on skills development and relationship building, while working parents – having experienced time and location flexibility – may be less eager to resume their pre-pandemic commutes and their complex schedules.

Just as the work-from-home shock of Covid-19 is forcing companies to consider corporate culture, they are increasingly considering how they will tackle climate change. The pandemic could have put climate back on the agenda, but instead, 2020 set records for clean energy deployment, electric vehicle sales, net zero corporate commitments and sustainable finance. The global climate is certainly not antifragile, but apparently the commitments of the business world to improve it were.

That said, I think companies are in many ways quite far from being able to consider the impact of their activities on the climate and the impact of the climate on their activities. Earlier this year, my colleague Tim Quinson pointed to research by Tensie Whelan, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, on how few board members have an environmental background, social and/or governance. I re-read Whelan’s article this week specifically for environmental expertise, and the data is pretty grim.

As of April 2018, 5% of the approximately 1,200 board members of Fortune 100 companies had workplace diversity experience and 2.6% had accounting oversight experience. Just 1% had experience in energy or conservation, the two highest-ranking categories in Whelan’s study. Three-tenths of a percent of Fortune 100 board members had ESG investing experience; 0.2% had experience with climate.

The recent reshuffle of the board of directors of Exxon Mobil Corp. involving the appointment of two board members with climate expertise will change those numbers a bit. Again, the fact that appointing two members to a company’s board measurably changes the number of climate-qualified board members is a sign of scarcity in itself.

If that happens, the arrival of climate control at the board level will be another culture shift for global corporate giants. It’s a big if, however, as it will almost certainly mean new board members. These will most likely end up being younger, more academic, more enterprising, and more experienced with what has worked and what hasn’t worked in the latest wave of early-stage climate technologies than the big, business leaders. semi-retired company or other important personalities. that pack today’s meeting rooms. It’s going to be a challenge. The councils don’t usually include 40-year-old climatologists, because they don’t usually include many 40-year-olds, period — or many scientists, for that matter.

But if companies want to make the climate a priority, they will have to be bold. Changing to meet new imperatives, whether driven by the pandemic, technology, or climate, begins with a change in leadership. Steven Sinofsky, a veteran tech executive and thoughtful observer of his biggest companies, wrote about this last week in the context of the post-pandemic workplace, but so do climate-committed companies. . “This is what the disruption looks like,” he said. “It happens slowly at first, then very quickly. It seems impossible to imagine a different way of doing things, so we do things in a different way. Stay tuned for a whole new way to work.

If the fight against climate change is an imperative, so is its integration into the highest levels of world trade. It means the conference room. Boards must be ready not only for a whole new way of working, but also for a whole new cohort to join them at the table.