Building Climate Expertise? You Need a Climate Champion

May 18, 2023

With global warming, biodiversity loss, and damaging weather events causing disruption around the world, organizations are beginning to understand the financial risks and opportunities of the inevitable impacts of climate change.

At the same time, investors and other stakeholders are demanding better climate disclosures and management practices from the companies they’re backing. To avoid painful financial losses, and to capitalize on new opportunities and revenue sources, companies must pay close attention to risk and opportunity in the new climate-driven economy.

One way to do this is to appoint a climate champion within your organization.

Why your company needs a climate champion

Climate cannot be siloed

Climate change touches everyone — from a farmer in Kenya whose crops are lost to drought, to a government dealing with a wave of climate refugees, to a software developer in New York who’s caught in a freak blizzard. Similarly, within an organization, climate risk and opportunity cannot be confined to a single department. A changing climate affects procurement, production, transport, finances, investor relations, marketing, human resources, and more.

This is why the task of evaluating climate risk, determining materiality, gathering data, and preparing for the green economic transition cannot be performed in isolation.

Climate is its own department

Many corporates have developed sustainability or ESG teams to make climate commitments and comply with mandatory and voluntary disclosures. But climate is not a mere subsection of ESG; it is an entire discipline of its own and one that touches all parts of a company. 

Climate management success requires an entire company to get on board, and ensuring knowledge does not live within a single person or department is a critical element of good climate governance.

Climate needs an ambassador

While it is important not to segregate climate, it needs its own ambassador within an organization. This should be someone who’s solely dedicated to moving the company forward on climate. 

These team members, who we call climate champions, are high-profile leaders who have considerable sway over an organization’s business strategy. In the green economic transition, much of a company’s core business strategy will come face to face with climate.

Who is a climate champion?

They are not a junior level ESG team member — but rather they’re a chief sustainability officer, head of climate, or something similar. Their authority within the organization is high, and they are empowered with resources — such as technology, talent, and professional development — and access — the ability to work laterally and vertically across the organization without being constrained to a single department.

Climate champions are not external consultants. While they may engage consultants from time to time, the champions themselves are integral parts of an organization. 

What’s crucial is that the climate knowledge the champion develops and documents must stay firmly within an organization and be stored and managed for the long term. Good stewardship of client knowledge ensures that key climate knowledge developed within the organization doesn’t walk out the door with departing team members or external consultants. With climate knowledge documented and stored centrally, companies avoid reinventing the wheel with each new climate initiative or team member, and can strategize for the long term.

What do climate champions do?

Climate champions ensure climate expertise spreads throughout and stays within an organization long after they’re gone. Climate champions collaborate with leaders and other departments, identify material risks and opportunities, and gather and maintain proprietary climate knowledge. They prepare the company to comply with mandatory and voluntary disclosures, monitor the climate maturity of their organization, and use the resources at their disposal to move the company toward robust climate management.

How your company can help climate champions succeed

Simply appointing a climate champion does not guarantee climate success. In fact, several factors determine whether or not your climate leader will make a meaningful difference to your organization’s climate journey.

  1. Climate champions need latitude

Effective climate champions must be given latitude to engage with key decision-makers across the organization. Widespread collaboration is essential in the early days of a company’s climate journey. Stakeholders across every department and at every level of seniority must be engaged at length to determine material climate risk factors and priorities.

When it comes to disclosures, strong and collaborative working relationships across the company give your climate champion the access they need to source the right data — without spending the bulk of their time navigating through gatekeepers and dealing with office politics. Because climate change is an enterprise-wide risk that touches every corner of an organization’s operations and management, latitudinal flexibility is essential for ensuring your climate champion is effective in their role.

  1. Climate champions need resources

Climate champions must also be properly resourced to have the desired effect within the organization. These leaders need a dedicated budget to run a thorough company-wide analysis that will allow them to identify material climate risks and opportunities. 

The budget must give champions the ability to acquire the technology and information they need to manage and document climate knowledge. It should also give them the ability to invest in the expertise and talent required — both internal and external — to identify the risks and capitalize on the opportunities of the green transition. 

In short, as it pertains to budgets and autonomy, climate should be seen as its own department that’s distinct from the larger umbrella of ESG. However, it should also be deeply integrated within every other department in an organization.

  1. Climate champions need top-down support

True climate management begins from the top down. Meaningful change requires buy-in from leaders who communicate the importance of climate to the rest of the organization. 

Your climate champion needs support from senior managers, board members, and other C-suite leaders. This backing signals to the rest of the company that climate is not an ancillary corporate goal — it’s a central concern of today’s operations and tomorrow’s plans. Prioritizing climate from the highest levels of leadership ensures each line of business opens the door to the climate champion as needed.

Want to build climate expertise at your organization?

Building climate expertise requires the right people and tools. Manifest Climate is the leading Climate Risk Planning software that supports your climate champions and other sustainability team members in assessing and improving climate maturity, benchmarking progress within your industry, measuring alignment with international disclosure frameworks, and better identifying and managing climate risk. We support climate champions and ESG teams as they build internal climate expertise through our extensive and up-to-date news, insights, and resources on climate and climate-related legislation.

With Manifest Climate, you can develop and document institutional climate knowledge without siloing expertise within departments or on the hard drives and inboxes of individual employees. Ultimately, developing a single source of truth for all climate-related knowledge allows organizations to ensure institutional continuity around climate expertise and finally make meaningful change toward climate targets.

Ready to learn more? Book a free demo today.