In case you haven't heard, the 2019 United Nations COP in Madrid was a big ole' disappointment.
Despite the array of alarming scientific reports detailing how our planet is hanging on edge of the metaphorical swirling toilet, the annual gathering of climate change policy makers, NGOs, and scientists from 180+ countries did not get much accomplished.
And how about private sector coalitions like We Are Still In, a commitment to climate change solutions representing "more than half of all Americans, and taken together, they represent $6.2 trillion, a bigger economy than any nation other than the U.S. or China."
For a sense of this scale, this coalition is coordinated by The American Sustainable Business Council, B Team, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Center for American Progress, Ceres, CDP, Climate Mayors, Climate Nexus, C40, C2ES, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Entrepreneurs, Georgetown Climate Center, Health Care Without Harm, ICLEI, National League of Cities, Rocky Mountain Institute, Second Nature, Sierra Club, Sustainable Museums, The Climate Group, We Mean Business, World Resources Institute (WRI), and World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
So, should you be a little depressed about the latest COP outcomes? Yep.
But instead of hiding in a corner like mistreated, bashful dogs, let this be a reminder to us Entrepreneurs for Impact that our work is needed now more than ever.
Stand up, y'all. Let's put on those big boy (or girl) pants and redouble our efforts.
In 20 years, our kids or grandkids will ask us what we were doing all these years?
"Adam is an organizational psychologist at Wharton, where he has been the top-rated professor for 7 years. He is an expert in how we can find motivation and meaning, and lead more generous and creative lives. He is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of four books that have sold over two million copies and been translated into 35 languages: Give and Take, Originals, Option B, and Power Moves. His books have been recognized as among the year’s best by Amazon, The Financial Times, Harvard Business Review, and The Wall Street Journal and been praised by J.J. Abrams, Richard Branson, Bill and Melinda Gates, Malcolm Gladwell, and Malala Yousafzai."
I highlight this for two reasons:
His interview is worth a listen on your next few commutes (2 hours long, but just take your time)
He raises the idea of building your own Challenge Network
So, what is a Challenge Network?
It's essentially your own private advisory board, consisting not just of cheerleaders, but also people that you empower to tell you what you're not doing right.
Too often, we don't seek enough feedback. Or when we do, it's from people that want to support out business and personal initiatives.
Whether you seek input from a group like this on a regular (e.g., quarterly) basis, or on a project-by-project basis, the benefits are real.
Or if you're a CEO or executive in the energy and environment sector, you could also get this kind of "tough love, with your best intentions in mind" via our Mastermind cohorts of 10-15 people in your same position.
Remember, diamonds are not created through dozens of hugs from pink Teddy bears. Instead, they need pressure and heat.
So turn up the dial, and get real with some honest feedback.
Interestingly, and quite appropriately, this is the book that my 8-year-old picked out for me at the library, on her own.
She then proceeded to assign this to me as my reading assignment, in the same way that I make her and my sons do their "Daddy Reading" most days, which includes personal development, science, and social studies themes that I find important for their development.
We can't leave all their education to the school system alone, right? :)
Yep, we now have new "ugly baby" from two nasty parents: "climate change" and "gentrification."
What is it?
The displacement of often non-white communities of lower socioeconomic status by new real estate (re)developments that cater to higher income populations and that capitalize on more climate-resilient locations (e.g., city neighborhoods at elevations higher above sea level).
As an article from MIT Sloan put it: "Prices in environmentally safe but historically affordable areas are skyrocketing — displacing vulnerable residents."
So, which cities are most at risk of climate change impacts, and potentially climate gentrification, if policy, finance, community, and business leaders don't get ahead of this problem?
Via Climate Central, here's a list of the US coastal cities most at risk from sea level rise. Hint: If you're in Florida, beware. Also, New York and Charleston make this dubious ranking, too.
To understand climate gentrification in its various forms, below is a graphic from a 2018 study from Harvard University.
As Entrepreneurs for Impact, what might do we do with this information?
Consider business solutions to climate gentrification (e.g., risk transfer mechanisms, cost sharing structures, investment opportunities)
Locate your infrastructure in climate resilient locations (for more on the $1 trillion in climate risk facing the world's biggest companies, check out this CDP summary)
If you're like me, you get super excited about generating and executing on new business ideas.
Lots of them. Too many, really.
It often leads to my wife thinking, "Hey man, do you ever turn off? Here, have a beer tonight. I insist."
But when most of the ideas don't work out, I wonder whether I should just drop it all and go become a professional tap dancer. (You should see the picture of me tap dancing as a 6-year-old. Super embarrassing.)
Luckily, I've spent years memorizing hundreds of facts via my environmental science undergraduate degree many moons ago.
And in those mental gymnastics, I remember that most seeds, spores, shoots, krill, and animal species do not survive to adulthood.
OK, I know you were waiting for it. Here's one more acorn analogy to add to the dozens in the inspiration and self development world:
Only about 1 out of 10,000 acorns become giant oak trees.
Coming home each day, I see a fantastic white oak in our front yard.
It has a far reaching and ominous crown that seems to whisper to me, "I hope you appreciate my 100 years of growth from a tiny acorn because during the next ice storm, I might just drop a huge limb on your roof. #LoveYou"
Glass half full, I appreciate the small chance that any new idea becomes as impressive as a towering oak tree.
That reality should help me from becoming a deer in headlights when new idea don't work out as expected.
As Entrepreneurs for Impact, it might be helpful to remember that acorns don't cry when being eaten by the squirrel. (But that is a funny image.) Instead, it's just part of the process.
[OK, now cue some music from Saturday Night Live's Jack Handy sketches. For some laughs, check out samples here.]
Last night, I judged a business plan competition at Duke University. That's not unusual.
But the unique part was this...
Undergraduate and graduate students across the university were competing to go on to the next level in the international Hult Prize to win $1M.
OK, so that's cool, but why does this matter to Entrepreneurs for Impact?
All business plans -- from 1,500 campuses across 121 countries -- have to focus on "(1) a positive net impact on the environment with every sale completed, dollar earned, and decision made, and (2) a million consumers impacted within a decade."
So why the inspiration?
These students were rockstars relative to where I was at their age.
They were going above and beyond classes, combining environment and business in ways that took me years to learn post-graduation.
Their ideas were exciting.
Hydroponic urban agriculture
High tech to increase crop yields and reduce methane generation from rice fields in India
SMS-enabled market exchanges to turn waste products into fertilizers for niches in Africa
Smart tags that reduced food waste by telling consumers when their meat had gone bad
Apps to help Chinese Millennials to make more environmentally responsible choices and earn credits to exchange for cash-equivalent goods and services
Art exchanges that took trash-enabled creations of beauty to web platforms for monetization and building awareness of waste issues
And, moreover, the Hult Prize website made me aware of statistics suggesting the future leaders will behave differently when it comes to balancing environment, human health, and business.
80% of Millennials are looking for brands which provide solutions to both improve their lives and benefit the larger society
75% of Millennials will purchase more environmentally and socially responsible products among competitors
73% of Millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable products
Maybe instead of looking to those older and more experienced than us for guidance and mentorship, we should sometimes look in the other direction, to those younger than us.
All joking aside, I think this super cool, and it deserves attention for a three reasons.
1. Meat alternatives are a big business opportunity
Barclays reports that the market is projected to grow from $14 billion today to $140 billion by 2029.
Imagine that one cell from a blue fin tuna could produce an infinite number of tuna meals. (When the taste and texture are up to speed...)
2. The meat industry creates big environmental impacts.
According to research cited by Project Drawdown, greenhouse gas emissions could be cut 63% percent by adopting a vegetarian diet, and lower health care costs and lost productivity could amount to $1 trillion in savings.
Importantly, it's not necessary to be 100% vegetarian to create these benefits. Some is better than none.
3. One way to grow new businesses is by combining expertise from multiple, disparate fields
How many farmers and agricultural scientists are thinking about 3D printing?
Probably not too many. Hence, the niche opportunity.
As Entrepreneurs for Impact, how are we doing the same? Perhaps by hiring for diversity in gender, degree, ethnicity, and prior work or personal experience?
But, there are some cautions...
Consumers need to be convinced that "laboratory grown" food is still "read food" that they should eat.
If only more consumers were aware of how processed food is made...
In addition, some "origin stories" may never go mainstream: Meat alternatives from the cells of maggots, anyone?
For inspiration, here are a few companies in the meat alternatives sector:
In my role as professor at Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill, one course that I teach MBA and environmental graduate students focuses on corporate sustainability strategy, specifically reporting and certification programs.
What are examples?
LEED green building certification
GRI (Global Reporting Initiative)
SASB (Sustainability Accounting Standards Board)
TCFD (Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures)
CDP (formerly, Carbon Disclosure Project)
Another important way that an increasing number of companies are reporting on their environmental and social KPIs (key performance indicators) is the United Nations SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).
Is this just about doing the right thing?
According to a report by The Business and Sustainable Development Commission, reaching the SDGs could unlock $12 trillion in business opportunities in these sectors: (1) food and agriculture, (2) cities, (3) energy and materials, and (4) health and well-being.
To learn more about how the SDGs might inspire changes in your business, check out these resources:
169 SDG Targets, with 232 unique Indicators (link)
How 17 companies are implementing the UN SDGs (link)
See how dozens of US companies are using the UN SDGs for their corporate goal setting and reporting (link)
In case that photo above is hard to read on your phone, here's the list of the UN SDGs, with more information behind each link.
(Just kidding. It's a blog, so please keep reading.)
A man walks up to three different bricklayers at work, and he asks them what they are doing.
"I'm laying bricks."
"I'm building a wall."
"I'm building a cathedral."
All of them are correct, but it's likely the third bricklayer who brings more commitment, passion, joy, and skill to the job.
Similarly, John F Kennedy supposedly asked a janitor at NASA what he was doing.
The answer: "I'm putting a man on the moon."
And the question for us Entrepreneurs for Impact is this:
What mission are we communicating to our team members so that they feel like their job is about more than the day-to-day blocking and tackling, and instead about doing something bigger, something to make their kids proud?
Thanks to Siobhan Kukolic at HuffPost for reminding me of these pithy stories.