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Why adaptation strategies aren't only for governments

The private sector should develop its own adaptations plans to combat issues such as climate change

The private sector should develop its own adaptations plans to combat issues such as climate change Image: Unsplash/Vlad Kutepov

Renee St. Amant
Principal Research Engineer, Arm
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This article is part of: The Davos Agenda
  • 'Adaptation' strategies are also valuable for the private sector, especially when taking into account its socially connected stakeholders.
  • Organizations need to improve their ability to listen to, and understand, emerging social trends.
  • The costs of adaptation can be shared through effective collaboration.

Governments are increasingly being called on to not only prevent the worst consequences of climate change through mitigation strategies, but also to develop and implement adaptation strategies for how to best survive the impacts we can’t avoid.

In the United States, for example, 23 federal agencies recently revealed their adaptation plans for dealing with the changing climate. The European Union has also published adaptation strategies meant to create climate resilience by the year 2050. There is an opportunity for the private sector to play a role in enabling solutions necessitated by governmental adaptation plans, but we also have an obligation to extend our own efforts beyond mitigation, to include plans for corporate adaptation.

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While looking at the call for corporate adaptation today, it may be worth noting that the timing and impetus for adaptation may arrive with greater pressure and increased urgency – not from specific changes within the ecological system, but rather due to changes from our socially connected stakeholders.

The concerns of these stakeholders clearly place greenhouse gas mitigation as a priority, but also include other complex areas in need of assistance. Our corporate adaptation strategies must therefore include:

  • Preparing organizations to better understand emerging social trends.
  • Contributing to solutions in established, material areas of social concern.
  • Engaging in effective collaboration with our peers.

Technology companies, in particular, have the power to offer significant, and much needed, contributions in each of these areas.

Stakeholder concerns must be listened to

Relative to preparing for emerging social trends, it is critical that we improve our ability to better listen to how our entire range of socially connected stakeholders currently define their concerns. The organization I work for, Arm, has for many years helped manifest smart technology with technical contributions that enable computer mobility and introduce greater levels of intelligence into devices.

We need to improve our ability to better listen to how our entire range of socially connected stakeholders currently define their concerns.
We need to listen to how our socially connected stakeholders define their concerns.

As part of our corporate adaptation, these technical definitions of “smart” must be supplemented in the future by actively listening to how the social space determines a smart product, including issues such as greater awareness of the carbon footprint of a product and concerns about social impact for different forms of technological advancements.

Integrating this awareness into our organization means bringing the voices of socially connected stakeholders into the conversation for what defines smart technology moving forward, making sure it includes carbon today and other social concerns as appropriate.

Inequality a top concern after climate change

It is not enough to merely track the concerns of our socially connected stakeholders, we must also contribute to solutions in established, material areas. For ourselves and other technology companies, growing inequality is one the largest material areas of social concern beyond climate change. Inequality manifests in many forms, and reducing opportunity inequality, in particular, is ripe for technological contributions.

To date, the technology industry has helped create unprecedented opportunity through digital solutions, but, unfortunately, that digital opportunity hasn’t manifested equally throughout the world.

There are, however, innovation opportunities everywhere for contributing solutions and extending digital opportunity into new areas. In both small and large ways, we can begin to close the digital divide by contributing solutions to these innovation areas.

Adaptation costs can be shared

Admittedly, there is a cost to adaptation, but in many areas, there is also an opportunity to share that cost using effective collaboration. Effective collaborations are those that drive towards tangible outcomes with impact. Perhaps more so for the tech industry than any other, our adaptation strategies should embrace each and every opportunity we have to find effective collaboration opportunities.

For example, socially connected stakeholders have clear concerns over the extent to which artificial intelligence (AI) will change their lives and whether those changes will be equitably distributed throughout society.

Finding and supporting collaborative initiatives to address concerns around AI, such as the World Economic Forum's Global AI Action Alliance, can be a critical component of any adaptation strategy improving our ability to thrive in a socially connected world.

Understanding and responding to our stakeholders often requires us to focus on the distinct differences and particular needs of each stakeholder group. When we take a step back, though, and focus instead on what these groups newly have in common, we can acknowledge that they are all currently connected by technology to the same social fabric and are each increasingly demanding change in similar areas.

The time to adapt to that change has arrived. As part of our adaptation strategies, there are steps to take ranging from immediate tangible actions to address specific concerns, to broad, future plans to address emerging concerns. While we will each determine appropriate strategies for adapting to this change, none of us will have the luxury of staying on the sidelines.

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