Forestry reaches out to business

Taking its curriculum off Science Hill, the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies is hitting the corporate world.

The School has launched an initiative with the world’s largest risk insurance broker, Marsh, and the nation’s largest nonprofit representing investors and environmental groups, Ceres, to educate corporate leaders about climate change and its consequences, such as an increase in hurricanes and forest fires. The curriculum remains under construction, but the actual education efforts will begin this winter and continue for two years.

The initiative grew out of the recommendations proposed by the Yale Conference on Climate Change in October 2005 that involved representatives from all sectors of society, Dan Abbasi, Associate Dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, said.

“The whole point of this is that a lot of great and frankly concerning science is being produced on this issue, but the challenge and the gap is getting this science moving to decision-making centers,” he said.

By putting the effects of climate change in business terms and showing corporations that addressing climate change is part of their fiduciary responsibility, the partners — Marsh, Ceres and the Yale — hope to make climate change a governance-level issue, Abbasi said.

“Climate change goes way beyond the science,” Marsh spokesman Mike Kachel said. “It sits at the intersection of science and politics and a number of different areas.”

The partners hope to publish a definitive guide on sustainable governance that will help educate corporate leaders about climate changes and resultant environmental concerns, such as water scarcity, said Anne Kelly, the Director of Governance Programs at Ceres.

The new curriculum will be spread to companies across the corporate spectrum and will be developed so that it is equipped with the flexibility of addressing small or large groups of corporate leaders. The partners are also committed to making the training available to 200 corporate directors, focusing on the Fortune 1000 directors in the United States, and are aiming to train 25 percent of them by this spring, said Kachel.

The initiative not only focuses on the liabilities of climate change but also tries to reveal the economic and social opportunities that global warming presents, Kelly said.

“We’re absolutely pushing companies to be proactive,” she said. “We’re trying to get companies to manage the risks and capture the opportunities. The smart companies will step up to the plate and be climate change leaders in this crisis.”

Abbasi said Yale has positioned itself as a mediator to promote a dialogue about the issue but does not want to prescribe how companies should act using this information. Some companies are not even convinced by the science that says climate change regulates a major regulatory program, he said.

This initiative alone will not be a cure-all for climate change, geology professor Ron Smith said.

“I think we’ve gotten to a point now that every one of us is so dependent on fossil fuel burning that it would take significant steps in every economic sector, but someone has to start,” said Smith.

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