Our planet is one large system composed of thousands of smaller systems. Though tiny, our everyday activities combine to affect the global system in a big way, and the global system, in turn, affects each of us significantly. Similarly, in any business organization there are many components that must be recognized as contributing to organizational sustainability, and therefore must be effectively managed to align towards a common goal.

The Earth’s climate is a perfect example of one such global system. From agriculture, to work, to housing, to lifestyle – climate affects all aspects of human life. We are now trying to understand how changes introduced into our environment over many years (some so small as to be hardly noticeable) are impacting our climate, and correspondingly, our personal sustainability.

One Central Park Sydney By: Rob Deutscher

One Central Park Sydney
By: Rob Deutscher

In business, leaders frequently establish “special project” teams to deal with change. Likewise, concerning our global system, many projects are underway to help us understand what factors contribute to a long term change in climate conditions. Understanding how and why the environment we live in is changing is important to both “micro” business projects and “macro” climate projects. Success however, is defined as the ability to pro actively (and practically) manage change to the advantage of the organization (system).

For example, as of 2016, there are several working models, startups, and plans to actually remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans. However, given the interrelationship of the many components of the global environmental system, the impact of executing any of these plans on the entire system (think organization) must be understood before any plan can be considered viable.

The first obstacle to pro actively managing global climate change is the “how” of actually removing carbon and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans. Several methods have been proposed: Bio-energy with carbon capture and storage, biochar (a charcoal used as a soil amendment), enhanced weathering, direct air capture, C02 scrubbing chemistry, and others. Research programs, global initiatives, and startups are already addressing the practical implementation and feasibility of these methods, with careful attention to the implications to the whole system of any remedial actions.

Not unlike any organization dealing with change in their business environment, when addressing climate change, global leadership must first create a strategy that ensures all options are carefully defined, alternatives weighed, costs and benefits quantified and solutions proposed. Then resources must be aligned to support the adopted solutions (strategy).

Schematic showing both terrestrial and geological sequestration of carbon dioxide emissions from a coal-fired plant. Rendering by LeJean Hardin and Jamie Payne.

Schematic showing both terrestrial and geological sequestration of carbon dioxide emissions from a coal-fired plant. Rendering by LeJean Hardin and Jamie Payne.

Without a clear vision of how to proceed, a method to do so, and an understanding of the cost benefit relationship of actions taken most good plans are likely to fail. For example, any method of greenhouse gas removal will probably be costly in the developmental phase, and have ongoing costs past implementation. Without a clearly communicated global strategy that helps all interested parties understand the cost offsetting benefits of managed change, greenhouse gas removal projects are unlikely to gain any traction.

As previously mentioned, when taking strategic action, all parties involved must understand the strategy and ramifications of implementation. Imagine leadership funding a long-term, costly activity without a clear understanding of the potential costs or benefits. Funding could be cut at a crucial point and potential benefits lost. Essential to any project of scale therefore, is the diligent utilization of metrics. For example, with greenhouse gas removal, what type and how much of each gas does each proposed solution remove? How much does each proposed solution cost to operate? How many different proposals should be acted upon ? These types of questions will require have many points of data to be collected, stored, and analyzed in real time.

As data is collected, the scope of a project like this will likely change. By realigning resources to better fulfill their role in the evolving strategy, leadership on a project of this scope can be more effective in realizing strategic goals , use fewer resources, and keep costs down while continuing to execute innovate.

In part 2 of this blog, we will use a real life example as a hypothetical case study of how managing a project like this on a global scale requires meticulous organization to be effective, and how long term planning, design, and adherence and redesign of processes can lead to improving profitability for an organization willing to undertake such a large project.