Four ways your small business must address climate change now


Earth Day, April 22, message greeting written across white flower cards hanging from pegs on a line against an environment friendly green background.

Editor’s note: This post is in honor of Earth Day, which is being celebrated around the world today.

If you follow science, political and business news, or even global weather reports, you likely know that climate change is occurring. While anecdotal evidence and individual severe weather events should not comprise the entirety of our understanding of the issue, climate experts attribute the noticeable increase in extreme weather, including flooding, a “polar vortex” and extreme heat and drought, to a larger and more ominous pattern.

It is unfortunate but perhaps understandable that climate change has not become top-of-mind for many business owners. Climate scientist Dr. Richard Somerville published the enticingly titled article “Is learning about climate change like having a colonoscopy?” Somerville compares people’s desire to avoid facing up to climate change to the desire to avoid hearing unwelcome health information. However, we all know that not having a timely colonoscopy is risky. Ignoring current and pending climate change is similarly counterproductive for a company owner who intends to remain in business over the long haul.

Some large businesses are starting to sound the alarm. Paul Polman, chief executive of consumer goods giant Unilever, gave this April’s Annual Lecture at London’s Imperial College Grantham Institute for Climate Change. He said, “Climate change is putting in jeopardy everything we have achieved since the 1960s in respect of poverty, food security, and social stability,” and cited cancelled shipping routes, destroyed power networks, reduced crop yields, and dangerous levels of air pollution. (Meanwhile, Coca Cola, Nike and other major corporations are responding to threats that climate change poses to their own bottom lines.)

What’s a small business owner to do? I suggest four categories of response: Preparedness, participation, purposeful change, and protest.

Preparedness: Volatile weather, economic instability including but not limited to stock market impacts, transportation interruptions, food supply glitches, and regulatory change are just a few of the likely short- and long-term business impacts of climate change. Lest you think I exaggerate the need to prepare now, let me recount our company’s June 1, 2011, experience with a Springfield-and-western-Massachusetts tornado system. The first and largest tornado missed our office by a mere mile. Post-tornado, our staff reviewed and revised our system for off-site data backups and preparedness to work off-site for days or weeks should a similar disaster take the office off the grid. This meant we were adequately prepared, four months later, for the devastating October Nor-easter and resulting seven-day regional power outage. (We were lucky, scant weeks before so-called “Snowtober,” to be on the minimally damaging edge of August 2011’s Hurricane Irene.)

Participation: By this, I am not suggesting you leave all the appliances running, idle your truck engine all day or otherwise become part of the problem. Climate change presents many new ways to provide value for others and to be a positive responder to emerging needs. For example, Environmental Leader details an opportunity that my team regularly promotes among our many construction and architecture-related clients, namely, “increased market demand for sustainable infrastructure and buildings, storm damage repair and reconstruction, energy efficiency retrofits and technologies and climate-resilient structures.” Businesses will also see new opportunities in data storage, alternate office space, travel insurance, business planning services, local food production, and much more.

Purposeful change: Conduct individualized business and personal planning to determine how climate change may impact your situation. At van Schouwen Associates, we now market clients’ sustainable business-to-business products and services such as renewable energy, green building and environmental planning. You may want to reduce your enterprise’s carbon footprint or you may seek new business opportunities that develop as a result of climate change. Your business plan, however you articulate it, should include your response to climate change as it affects your company, employees, customers, community, and region.

Protest: As a small business owner, you have a platform. Make yourself heard. As Unilever’s Polman, who clearly has a large platform, emphasized in his London address, “Climate change risks not only tipping the poorest into deeper poverty, but pulling the emerging middle classes back into poverty as well. Not only is tackling climate change compatible with economic growth, it is only by tackling climate change in a systemic way that we can deliver growth for the global economy in the 21st century.”

Climate change will matter to nearly everyone in the foreseeable future, so small business owners should be informed and involved. In her elegant essay “Elegy for a Country’s Seasons,” which was recently published in The New York Review of Books, writer Zadie Smith concluded, “I found my mind finally beginning to turn from the elegiac what have we done to the practical what can we do?”

What can we do? Life and business will go on. Facts and planning are power. Using your own power wisely helps prepare you and your small business for whatever is ahead, and ideally, assures that the course you chart keeps our children and grandchildren in sight.


Michelle van Schouwen is president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC, a B2B marketing company based in Longmeadow, MA. The company is known for vSALaunch, its proprietary, modular and scalable system for B2B marketing launches, as well as its expertise in integrated marketing for B2B. Michelle and her team market sustainable and environmentally sound products and services for companies throughout and beyond the U.S. Contact Michelle at


© 2014 Michelle van Schouwen


Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Article Marketing Profit Strategy

Leave a Reply

The Self-Employment Survival Guide can help you succeed. Learn all about it here.

Self-Employment Survival Guide book cover