• Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.


What does the job require?

A national organization is pushing to take sustainability professionalism to the next level.

June 13, 2013

Recently, I've become more aware of a national group -- the Association of Climate Change Officers.  It's been around for about five years now.  Its initial focus seemed to be on stimulating conversation among representatives of major corporations and various levels of government; in that sense, it resembles a number of national associations which (directly or indirectly) help develop and promote markets for new and evolving products.  The salient feature, obviously, was an emphasis on climate change and its knock-on effects.  

My initial response was to discount ACCO as just another trade group, albeit one for a trade that didn't yet really exist and a trade relevant to my day job.  Some trade groups, of course, do excellent work.  Others, not so much.  I'm beginning to think that ACCO might fall into the "excellent work" category.

To create a market sector where none exists, some level of credibility is a necessity.  And when much of the menu will consists of expertise, perceived professionalism becomes a must.  This spring, ACCO put out a draft statement of "Core Competencies for Climate Change Officers and Professionals".  Public comment closed last month, and it will be interesting to see how much the draft is changed as a result.  However, the original draft for comment holds a lot of food for thought.  It sets a pretty high standard that contains real challenges for US higher education.

ACCO proposes that anyone calling her/him-self a "climate change professional" should be able to exhibit:

  • A command of the basic science around anthropogenic climate change and the likely impacts (positive and negative) on the relevant organization, its operations and its customers.
  • A detailed understanding of the organization's dependence on natural resources (sources and sinks), of trends and projections for the availability and costs of those resources, and of the existence of possible substitution or other strategies for mitigating risk or minimizing impacts of climate change.
  • An evolving awareness of likely public policy stances and customer attitudes regarding climate change and organizations' efforts to deal with it.
  • A comprehensive grasp of potentials for risks relating to price, availability, non-resource costs, and demand.
  • An ability to help the organization deal with climate-induced risks as part of its strategic and tactical planning.
  • A capacity to formulate and initiate sets of projects to help the organization reposition itself as climate changes, and to oversee the management of such projects.
  • A sound grasp of cost/benefit and risk/reward analysis, and the ability to formulate, communicate and defend project proposals.

Personally, I don't know a half-dozen people who really grasp the mix of science, organizational operations, public policy, market analysis, cost analysis, risk management, project management, financial management and communications that ACCO seems to be describing.  In fact, I'm not sure I know even one.  And yet it's hard to fault the thinking that went into their draft.  All those skills -- all those areas of expertise and capability -- really are needed if folks are going to help complex organizations (business, government, educational) mitigate and adapt to climate change.

I do know of a couple of campuses (probably not more than that) which have assembled teams of folks such that the team can address most of ACCO's recommendations.  Generally, campus team strengths tend to be in the areas of basic science, public policy (especially at state institutions), project initiation and management, and cost/benefit analysis.  All of those, of course, deal with the situation as it is, or as it can predictably be caused to become as a result of well-defined projects using relatively well-understood technologies.  On the other hand, I'm not aware of a single campus which has sustainability folks who deal and communicate really well with the concept and implications of risk (what isn't yet, but might well be in future).  Part of the reason might be that most colleges and universities don't deal well with risk-related concepts, climate change considerations aside.

Some business schools and some multi-disciplinary programs, of course, spend a lot of time focusing on risk.  Entrepreneurship programs exhibit one perspective on risk, finance programs another, actuarial programs a third.  

But for all the rapidity of change in today's world -- another expression for which might be that each of us is living inside an uncontrolled experiment all the time -- it doesn't seem like most Greenback graduates (nor most alumni of other universities) are comfortable with and capable of quantitatively considering risk, much less actively managing it.  If the Association of Climate Change Officers is successful in its mission, there's going to be a huge demand for such alumni.  If colleges and universities are serious about dealing with their own climate change issues -- not to mention complicating factors like social and economic sustainability -- we might want to find ways of getting some of those alums to stick around after graduation.



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