5 ways to lead on climate

0821 Editorialcontent Leadership Insights
Sheila Young

Climate change has arrived in Wisconsin, threatening our economy, culture, and public health. Fortunately, we already possess the means to mitigate increasing heat, flooding, and contaminated air, soil, and water. Businesses can lead, and thrive by taking advantage of five existing practices to protect their employees, communities, and livelihoods.

  1. Self-audit: According to the 2020 Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change, heating in industrial and commercial buildings accounts for 16% of Wisconsin’s greenhouse gas emissions, and that’s before air conditioning in a climate that could double the number of days over 90 degrees in the next 20 years. Begin with an energy audit of your buildings, grounds, and behaviors. Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy (focusonenergy.com) is a great starting place.
  2. Drive alternative transportation: The task force notes that transportation accounts for 24% of state greenhouse gas emissions, and vehicles are responsible for three-fourths of that. Can you utilize electric vehicles and support employees with charging stations, carpooling programs, incentives for public transportation use, bicycle storage, and a place to freshen up after riding to work?
  3. Celebrate wins: Make conservation part of company culture by inviting employees and customers to participate. Track successes and accept imperfection as long as there is progress. While not all activities will have equal impact, celebrate the people whose ideas and actions made a measurable impact, and you’ll reinforce thrift, innovation, and camaraderie. The market may reward you as well. A 2018 Stanford Graduate School of Business study found that more than two-thirds of the American public supports CEO activism around clean air, water, renewable energy, and climate change.
  4. Rethink it all the way through: We now understand the intersectionality of environmental stewardship, public health, and racial justice. Communities with less political power often find themselves on the receiving end of negative environmental impacts, including pollution, lack of green space, and job losses. By thinking through the effects of changes we make to the production of energy, goods, and services, we can make sure that no group unfairly bears the consequences or misses out on the benefits.
  5. Lead loudly: Champion the health and future of your employees and customers through advocacy. Recently, more than 60 Wisconsin business leaders, including the Weyco Group and the Milwaukee Bucks, signed a joint statement to the state Assembly opposing new bills that severely curtail absentee voting, particularly for the elderly, ill, disabled, and minorities. When business leaders speak, legislators listen. Use your insider’s voice to stand up for the outsiders. We the people will love you for it.

Sheila Young is board president of Wisconsin Conservation Voter (conservationvoices.org or conservationvoters.org).

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