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Embracing Adaptability. Developing Resiliency.

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Climate Change Makes Adaptation and Resiliency Necessary

The notions of adaptation and resilience are batted about often these days in how we should respond to climate change.  The reasoning is that climate change impacts are occurring today and will continue to impact us tomorrow and those impacts will, for the most part, be increasingly detrimental, less predictable, and more chaotic over time.  The base realization is that we must contend with climate change in all its varying forms while actively trying to decrease our contributions to it.

Adaptation and Resiliency Go Hand-in-Hand.  One Begets the Other.

Resiliency – of individuals, households, communities, regions and countries – is the desired outcome from the implementation of adaptation strategies to successfully mitigate the detrimental impacts climate change can and will have on people’s homes, health, water and food supplies, energy systems, and livelihoods.  Adaptation measures support resiliency.

The Origin of Resiliency

The idea of resilience originally comes from environmental ecology:  the study of nature.  The principle of resilience as it relates to ecosystem sustainability is the capacity of the environment to “recover from adverse impacts” to it; the ability of a particular ecosystem to “bounce back” from a disruption such as a flood or wildfire[1].  This ecology concept is now being applied to societies and communities effected by climate change impacts.   We can call this socio-political turn on resilience:  ‘livelihood resilience’[2].  The definition of resilience as it relates to society, a community, and individuals is the ability to “resist,  absorb, accommodate to and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of…essential basic structures and functions”[3] of a defined community.  In effect, livelihood resilience focuses on how “the daily practices of ordinary people”[4] can be made more robust through new coping mechanisms and adaptation strategies to whether the increasing likelihood and intensity of climate change impacts to our daily lives.  Resiliency gives us the ability to survive, bounce-back and ultimately, thrive under climate change conditions:  to whether its proverbial centuries-long “storm”.

Personalizing the Idea of Resiliency

Livelihood resilience is the study of how individuals respond to environmental stressors that can heavily tax their daily existence by providing a practical road-map approach to the implementation of pro-active, anticipatory actions that meet personal lifestyle requirements in a satisfactory way.   For instance, the cost burden should not be too high nor the behavioral changes required should not be too drastic.  This is where adaptation strategies come in.  Adaptation measures do not have to be radical to be effective.  Incremental adaptation can be sufficiently effective if applied consistently and continuously over time.

A Roadmap Toward Personal Adaptation

What is adaptation?  It is the deployment of a diverse set of practical strategies to reduce one’s risk and vulnerability to climate change impacts to one’s health, livelihood, home, water and food supplies, and the energy systems we rely on to stay safe and be productive in our life.  Climate change adaptability necessarily entails developing new habits and behaviors, implementing new practices personal, professionally and at home, and adopting new technologies all in support of reducing one’s exposure to negative impacts but also to facilitate the reduction of our own personal contribution to the continued exacerbation of global climate change.  Climate change adaptation measures seek to “moderate harm” done to us as well as to take advantage of “beneficial” opportunities to side-step harm to us[5].

Note: in speaking about adaptability there is a great degree of emphasis on personal responsibility, pro-active steps taken, and anticipatory (versus reactionary) action taken.  One does not go fishing without securing a fishing rod and bait.  One could fish by taking a trip to a river, finding a long, bowed stick and digging up some worms or killing a fly on-scene, but this is hardly efficient nor very effective to the short-, medium- or long-term goal of successfully catching fish.  So too, one does not contemplate a long road-trip without acknowledging that an automobile needs gas to run, participants need regular bathroom and food breaks, and perhaps an interim stop destination determined to rest and recoup before driving onward to one’s final place of visit. Pro-active, anticipatory behavioral changes, effective planning practices, and employment of beneficial technologies can help ensure that when an environmental or economic shock occurs because of climate change, we are ready to withstand its impact and possess the capability to rebound to pre-shock productivity levels quickly.

First Step:  Making changes in Our Habits (and Long-Held Beliefs)

Behavioral changes are ways in which we conduct ourselves, much of them are unconsciously decided.  Changes in our habits or the ways in which we conduct ourselves are difficult.  They are unwritten rules we live by, often inherited over our lifetimes, learned from our early days as kids and young adults.  Think about how we cook and eat.  Much of the comfort foods we love come from our very earliest experiences of first trying them.  Good memories are attached to them whether it was a cold night where our mom cooked that delicious chili with kidney beans topped with shredded cheddar cheese served with a crusty baguette.  Or maybe it was that time unexpectedly, after a tough day at school, dad made his “famous” homemade mac & cheese dish sizzling hot out of the oven with breadcrumbs on top and the oozing-gooeyness of the cheese making each mouthful both work and a lovely prolonged sensation.  To this day, we may love both chili and mac& cheese.  We might still cook them exactly as we experienced them the first time.  But when say, we are diagnosed with Type II diabetes or celiac disease, eating rich, fatty foods or gluten are detrimental to our bodily health.  We must then make different and better-informed dietary decisions to build a body that is sustainable and healthy over the long-term.  These decisions must be consciously made, even when we feel we want to resist them.  They do not feel natural and thus, foreign. This is the re-learning period of changing out old habits for new, beneficial ones.  Over time and with much conscious iteration of our new behaviors, new habits become embedded in our mind, so much so that we no longer have to think about them, consciously, to perform them.  They become our new and standard way of doing things.  That is conscious, incremental adaptation.

Second Step:  Developing New Personal Habits That Are Sustainability-Driven

New practices are novel ways we go about accomplishing what needs to be done to run our lives smoothly on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.  We fill the car up with gas once a week.  We go grocery shopping on Mondays and Thursdays.  We drop-off our dry-cleaning every Tuesday.  We pay our household bills the 2nd of every month.  We set-up standards and routines to keep orderly track of all that needs to get done on a continuous basis.  We can call this a mental check-list of life’s “To Dos”.  Some of these practices we just do and don’t think about much.  A pair of socks gets a hole in them so we throw them away and buy a few more pairs.  We use Aluminum foil until the roll is depleted and we put it on our shopping list to get more.  We buy that Gallon of Tide laundry detergent because having more is better.

New practices can also be defined as being open to trying new ways, new things, new brands, and new concepts to accomplish the same life tasks that require our attention.  For instance, instead of performing manual bank reconciliations, many of us now use e-banking services with our banks, this not only automates our payments out and credits in, it automatically serves to streamline our personal monthly reconciliations of cash flows.  With the advent of online shopping, a shift has occurred in how we shop.  Instead of visiting a mall, we take time out of our work week to shop online, making more efficient use of our time and removing the hassle of lugging our purchases around with us, with free or low-cost delivery services.  Another example:  we rarely hail a taxi cab much longer in urban areas; instead, we “call” an Uber or Lyft car to pick us up at a determined spot and time that is electronically ordered by us through our mobile phones.  Some of these new practices take time to learn and get used to.  Though with practice, we often find they serve us better:  saving us time, money, and effort.

Third Step:  Embracing New Technology That Supports Personal Sustainability

New technologies have multiple beneficial purposes.  Often, technologies are designed to make a process more efficient (e.g., use less material), such as what 3-D (additive) manufacturing does, whereby an athletic shoe or a wing of a plane can be designed on a computer screen, tweaked for performance and peak design without the need to create a prototype (or sample mold) to be made.  New technologies originate to replace or substitute products or processes that are less efficient or are more harmful to the environment, such as the production of biofuels (liquid fuel originating from plants such as corn or agricultural waste and grass) that are used to replace the use of gas or coal as an energy input for many types of transportation vehicles.  Other new technologies seek to solve big problems for humanity.  Several include the idea that making energy generation distributed (regionally, locally, or individually-managed) and affordable, will allow many poor people in less-industrialized nations to raise their standards-of-living and to live more securely.  This is the thought behind both Solar PV systems that can be installed on homes and mobile infrastructure as well as “next generation” batteries based on sodium, aluminum or zinc that can power whole manufacturing plans, towns or small rural communities[6].  Many new technologies may be commercially available but expensive.  Others are emerging technologies that are being tested and developed to reach commercial viability.  Some technologies are readily available in some geographies, but not in others.  Most new technologies require some research into how they are installed and operate, whether they are supported by subsidies or incentives, and take a little personal elbow grease for their implementation.  That said, return on investments can be significant, and even more than initially modelled.

Final Thoughts on the Road to Resiliency

When we talk about adaptation strategies to employ on the road to building effective resiliency to climate change impacts that will affect us, the three requirements of adaptability are 1) learning new habits, 2) employing new practices, and in some cases where appropriate and affordable, 3) installing new technologies.  Remember, we are preparing ourselves to combat climate change the best way possible with the resources and knowledge we possess.  Adaptability and resiliency is a one-two punch strategy:  make personal changes to be better prepared when shocks and disasters happen – and they will – while also owning one’s contribution to climate change by making conscious life-decisions to reduce our output of GHG emissions into the atmosphere.

Contact Kate Gaertner today to see what Triple Win Advisory can do to help your business and industry increase sustainability to result in a “triple win” for company profit and long-term competitive advantage, societal well-being, and successful environmental pollution mitigation.

[1] Harris, Jonathan M. and Roach, Brian.  (2013).  Environmental and Natural Resource Economics:  A Contemporary Approach, 3rd Edition.  Armonk, New York, M.E. Sharpe, pp. 315, 342.

[2] Tanner et al. (2015, January).  Livelihood resilience in the face of climate change.  Nature Climate Change, Vol. 1, pp. 23-26.

[3] Jabareen, Yosef.  (2013).  Planning the resilient city:  Concepts and strategies for coping with climate change and environmental risk.  Cities 31, pp. 220-229.

[4] Tanner et al., op. cit., p. 23-24.

[5] Noble et al., op. cit., p. 834.

[6] Carbeck, Jeffrey.  (2016, June 23).  Those next-generation batteries could end energy poverty.  World Economic Forum.

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