Business and Resilience

It seems that everyday a new article – popular or academic – comes out about Business and Sustainability.  All about supply-chain efficiencies, corporate social responsibility, the corporate role in sustainable development.  Of course, there is at least as much coming out about the problems, deficiencies, contradictions between capitalism and development and the prevailing neoliberal order.  I’ve recently read Dauvergne and Lister’s “Eco-Business: A Big Brand Takeover of Sustainability”, which does a nice job at introducing the arguing sides to each other – the language, the pros/cons of each position, and what seems to be working.  This post isn’t about this.  Rather my intent is to comment on a recent workshop at IBM-Montpellier as part of the Resilience 2014 conference.  Margot Hill Clarvis and Gail Whiteman coordinated an off-site session on Business and Resilience.  Following presentations from IBM on their corporate view of and response to Resilience and from speakers from the Resilience Alliance (Brian Walker) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), we split into parallel sessions.

Margot and I hosted a session titled “Investing in Resilience: Challenges and Opportunities” with a number of industry speakers, including:

  • Dr. David N. Bresch, Director Global Head Sustainability, Swiss Re
  • Dan Dowling, Assistant Director, Sustainability and Climate Change, PwC
  • Linda Freiner, Flood Resilience Program Manager, Group Corporate Responsibility, Zürich Insurance
  • John Fullerton, Founder & President, Capital Institute
  • Prof. Sander van der Leeuw, Arizona State University

From the abstract:  Our concern was that business, and the finance institutions that lend to, invest in, and insure them, are at the heart of many of the drivers and solutions to ecological degradation, resource depletion and social vulnerability. Resilience principles should be at the heart of practical steps to both alleviate these pressures and frame opportunities for more sustainable financing models and investment practices. So far, the majority of dialogue on resilience and investment has focused on a limited set of issues primarily relating to disaster risk resilience. However, there has been very little investigation into these issues within the academic discourses on resilience, and even less dialogue with this practitioner community than other communities (e.g. park rangers, water managers etc). At the same time, the business and investment community are scaling up efforts to transform accounting and valuation practices and strategic priorities in order to facilitate more sustainable investment.

The session aimed to present novel perspectives from a range of practitioners involved in finance (i.e. insurance, accounting, investment) or financing ‘resilience’-based activities in order to provide insights into the challenges and opportunities for integrating resilience into the practical mechanics of enterprise risk and investment evaluation. Panelists gave an overview of how their practical work/research intersects with resilience issues and science, the challenges in the operational application of these frameworks, the expected opportunities and benefits to doing so (focusing on the novel insights it provides) and how best to drive further progress.

As compared with the standard corporate perspective, the financial organizations, particularly the insurance industry seems to value a resilience approach as a means to assess and design preventative approaches (adaptation) rather than ex post responses to disasters or sustainability shortcomings (mitigation).  Unlike many politicians, they see global change and are cognizant about the various potential futures unfolding. This is less about liberal/conservative philosophies and more about preparing and responding to reality in a rapidly changing environment.

Stay tuned for more on business and resilience.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by roger parks on July 8, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    Michael – from a variety of recent events [Katrina, Issac, Sandy, …] one might say that the insurance industry responses had less to do with resilience/more to do with denial of coverage ex post – I’m not seeing them as the ‘good guys’ you posit – your thoughts?

    Reply

  2. Hi Roger, separate issue from what I was trying to convey. I agree with your complaint. My point was that the insurance companies are ahead of most other businesses and clearly ahead of the politicians in terms of not only understanding the ramifications of global change but also clearly understanding the science behind it, particularly the concept of resilience. Not only that, they are putting it into practice. In some ways they understand it better than many scientists.

    Reply

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