A traffic light sign is nearly submerged by a massive flood—one example of the extreme weather events caused by climate change.

Hurricanes. Wildfires. Tornadoes. Droughts. Blizzards. Heat waves. These and other forms of extreme weather have always been facts of life on Earth. But until relatively recently, they were facts many of us read about or experienced once in a blue moon—not something we faced multiple times a year, with increasing intensity.

We’re talking about stronger and stronger hurricanes, wildfire seasons that get longer and more dangerous, hotter summers and colder winters—weather events that break records year after year.

The effects of climate change are facts of life for people throughout the world, affecting all sorts of businesses and communities.

Even the glass of Cabernet you enjoy in the evening to unwind isn’t climate change-proof. Take what happened to historic winery Napa Valley winery Chateau Boswell in 2020. Owner Susan Boswell dealt with unimaginable personal trauma and the devastating loss of revenue when the Glass Fire damaged her wine and grapes. Boswell lost the first vintages her late husband ever bottled and historical family letters dating back to the American Revolution. On top of everything, Susan had to work to rebuild her winery after the wildfire.

Sadly, countless businesses have similar stories, and the impact on our economy is impossible to ignore. Climate experts estimate that natural disasters cause more than $80 billion in damage annually. Like climate change itself, that impact is expected to worsen each year.

It’s time to get real about climate change. Here’s what to know about climate change and how to prepare your business and community for extreme weather events.

Climate change and your business

Napa Valley’s wineries are just one illustration of how climate change can negatively affect businesses. For another example, look to Texas. After a historically cold winter that shut down the power grid for days, the state and its communities took months to recover. The outages had affected everything from the state’s water supply to train lines to manufacturing. 

Around the world, climate change is accelerating the rate at which we see unprecedented storms and record-breaking temperatures. Seven out of the ten most expensive natural disasters since 1980 have occurred in the last 16 years. There’s a high probability your business will feel that impact in the future if it hasn’t already.

Even if your business isn’t located in an area at risk of fires or flooding, your business is often indirectly affected. A wildfire razing California’s farmland means higher produce prices for food suppliers, restaurants, and catering businesses. A statewide power outage disrupts manufacturing and transportation lines, causing shipping delays. These types of disruptions create a ripple effect that is often felt most acutely by small businesses that don’t keep a large inventory. 

As concerning as these trends are, they pale in comparison to the acute effects of a natural disaster. A catastrophe in your area can wreak untold havoc on your business and the people you serve.

Climate change and your community

A significant challenge for business owners dealing with climate-related disasters is concurrent business and personal losses.

Local businesses are crucial to recovery efforts. When a disaster strikes, people count on their insurance agents, contractors, plumbers, electricians, restaurants, and more to aid in picking up the pieces. Consequently, many business owners in disaster-prone areas find themselves aiding in the recovery efforts in their communities while rebuilding their homes and offices themselves.

It’s a special kind of stress: getting your customers’ heat up and running while your home is missing its roof.

One way businesses can navigate these challenges is good communication. If you have to close your doors for a few days or even a few weeks, make sure your people know that you have plans to reopen. Keeping your community aware of your efforts to rebuild and recover will go a long way for your business and community morale.

A disaster will change your business. A new office space, new working arrangements, or even finding new suppliers will be challenging. But not all recovery efforts are a loss, and not all changes are entirely negative. Some businesses facing down climate crises have even found new ways to help their communities and new angles for generating revenue.

How can you prepare?

Recognizing that climate change is a problem that will impact our world is an excellent first step. Here are a few more actionable ways you and your business can make a difference:

  • Make efforts to reduce your carbon footprint. Find a local agency to help you assess areas in which you can improve your carbon emissions.
  • Reduce your energy consumption by turning off your lights and unplugging unnecessary electronics. Consider turning your heat down in the winter and turning your AC up in the summer.
  • Consider switching to renewable energy sources such as solar panels for your office space.
  • Reduce company waste. Switch to paperless, opt for reusable cups and silverware for your office space, and place recycling bins around your space.
  • Repair broken electronics rather than replace them.
  • Search for greener infrastructure and suppliers. Switch to electric vehicles, energy-efficient appliances, and choose suppliers that share your climate values.

Making one or two seemingly minor changes at first and sharing your values with your team is a great way to start making business decisions that are better for the environment and the people you serve.

That’s one piece of the puzzle. How about natural disasters? How do you prepare for a possible climate hazard?

Start by reviewing your business continuity plan.

By now, it should be clear that we all need to prepare for just about anything when it comes to keeping our businesses running during hardships. Climate change and natural hazards should be a part of your business continuity plan.

For a deeper dive into preparing your business for the unexpected, read about business continuity planning here.

Suppose you find yourself amid a climate emergency. In that case, communication is key. Help your customers or clients set the right expectations. If you’re open, make sure they know they can call on you to help in an emergency. If you’re not open, let the people you serve know your plans to reopen, and reassure your community that you’re sticking around for the recovery.

In either case, optimal communication and customer experience are essential. You might not be able to provide the people you serve with the solutions they need, but you can invest in effective communication tools to keep people safe and informed.

Finally, lead by example. Commit to taking action to reduce climate change and positively impact the community and customers you serve.

Remember: we’re all in this together. Help out how, when, and where you can, and you’ll contribute to a more resilient economy where everyone has the greatest opportunity to thrive. And if your business or your community has experienced a disaster, help is available.

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