Institutional Readiness to Implement Climate Solutions

July 6, 2010

by Wendell Brase, Vice Chancellor, University of California, Irvine and Chair, University of California Climate Solutions Steering Group

(This article appears in the July, 2010 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

During the past three years I have served in the roles of both Chief Business Officer (CBO) and ACUPCC Implementation Liaison at the University of California, Irvine.  In this dual role I have recognized certain factors critical for attaining success in implementing climate action plans.  In this first of four articles to be published over the next twelve months, I will describe two basic tools that can determine whether your organization and key stakeholders are adequately prepared to move forward in implementing solutions to the complex problem of attaining institutional climate-neutrality.

The following 10 factors are strong predictors of an organization’s success in addressing any large, complex problem including climate change solutions.  That is, these essential ingredients predict a high-performance organization’s success path:

  1. A goal that is simple and clear, and understandable broadly both horizontally across the organization and vertically from the grass roots to the governing board.
  2. A goal that is measurable, with metrics that are not too esoteric or technical.
  3. A plan that contains measurable milestones rather than one, abstract, lofty goal.
  4. Agreement on priorities to pursue as the plan gets executed – what gets done first, next, and later.
  5. A bona fide bottom-up/top-down value system about engagement and shared responsibility, since the most complex, challenging problems require empowerment that comes from the grass roots as well as a purpose that gets top-down support.
  6. Realistic, openly discussed, shared expectations that status quo behaviors and patterns will have to change in substantial, rather than marginal, ways.
  7. Realistic expectations that serious money will need to be invested after the low-cost behavioral changes are exhausted and the low-hanging, self-financing projects are completed.  GHG emissions actually have a substantial cost, and always have.  We are just now coming to grips with recognizing that cost.
  8. Understanding the scale of the problem and that it will not be solved overnight.
  9. Shared knowledge and common language about the basic metrics, attributes, priorities, and expectations outlined above, so that efforts can be harnessed broadly across the organization both vertically and horizontally.
  10. Accountability goals and measures that “mainstream” mission-critical problems into annual performance goals and subsequent performance appraisals of line managers.

These essential ingredients enable a high performance organization to tackle any kind of mission-critical, challenging, large-scale problem – for example, a major capital campaign, business process re-engineering, a utilities deficit, or replacement of an enterprise financial system.

The goal of carbon-neutrality is clear and measurable.  And climate action plans describe, according to ACUPCC guidelines, the priorities, milestones, and scale of the overall problem each institution faces.  Thus, the ACUPCC has provided a framework that addresses half of the essential success factors summarized above.  The other half comprises factors that we have to ensure are in place in a high performance organization.  In fact, anything less than a high performance organization will fail to achieve a solution to a problem as daunting as climate-neutrality.  Thus, our jobs suddenly extend beyond understanding the technicalities of a greenhouse gas emissions inventory and the comparative attributes of RECs vs. offsets.  These technical facets of the climate action plan will become meaningless unless the foundational elements of a high performance organization are already in place.

So, now our jobs encompass managing expectations and organizational effectiveness.  Whatever your role or your job title, you will discover that your institution’s chief business officer is at the focal point for managing expectations and organizational effectiveness, as well as planning long-term, substantial investments.  If you are an ACUPCC Implementation Liaison you probably know the answers to the 25 questions in this document.  If your CBO does not know the answers, you need to ramp-up your dialog with him or her, to reach a shared level of climate change fluency.  If you don’t know some of the answers, you may need to become knowledgeable and comfortable with the kinds of issues where you will find common ground with your CBO, especially as the easy steps are completed and major institutional efforts and financial commitments become necessary in order to reach advanced milestones in your climate action plan.

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