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Ford Motor Company (F), General Electric Company (GE) & Weyerhaeuser Company (WY): One Risk Most Companies Acknowledge but Few Manage

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What if I told you that there’s a business risk out there that 90% of companies in the S&P Global 100 index perceive as legitimate, but that few are managing in any real fashion? What if I said further that while some companies view this risk on a 10-year time horizon, others are feeling its effects right this minute, and they’re still not really handling it? You’d probably want to know what this risk is.

Well, it’s climate change. I know, you may be rolling your eyes, or getting hot under the collar as you dismiss the whole notion as a liberal conspiracy. Hang with me for a bit, because this is no longer just academic. Stuff is happening now, and companies with no points to score are getting serious about understanding the threats climate change poses to their operations.

Already feeling the pain
The science is pretty well settled on the proposition that climate change is adding to the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Companies are feeling the pain in some very direct ways. When the flooding happened in Thailand in 2011, for instance, Honda Motor Co Ltd (NYSE:HMC) lost more than $250 million when its automobile assembly plants were inundated. Around the same time, severe flooding in Australia contributed to a 38% decline in insurer Munich Re‘s quarterly profits.

A new report out today from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) provides a glimpse into the way major corporations are looking at this. Among climate change risks, they’re most concerned about damage to facilities, loss of water or power supplies, higher costs, and disruption of supply and distribution chains. But C2ES notes that few companies have a truly robust strategy for dealing with climate change risk.

Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F)Why would that be? Well, it has a lot to do with uncertainty. C2ES attributes it to “a lack of information and tools to help them relate these risks to their specific business operations.” Certainly, Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F)‘s survey response seems to bear this out: “Based on [our] assessment
of the physical risks associated with climate change, we do not believe we can adequately predict the potential impacts of climate change on our business beyond noting the risk posed by natural or man-made disasters.”

Action doesn’t require certainty
But if business leaders always waited for certainty before taking action, would they ever get off the ground? Of course not. Agile companies are making plans and developing strategies right now.

One mechanism is to transfer climate change risk through insurance. C2ES describes how Merck & Co., Inc. (NYSE:MRK) works with its insurers to evaluate potential risks and to take corrective actions for all facilities in low-lying areas, or those in other ways exposed to severe weather risks.

Action doesn’t just have to be on the risk side. General Electric Company (NYSE:GE) sees tremendous opportunity in being a part of the solution. In light of the threat climate change poses to fresh water supplies, the company is expanding its water technologies — from wastewater treatment and reuse technologies to desalination equipment — for use in power plants, agriculture, and manufacturing. Global spending on water infrastructure is projected to grow from $90 billion in 2010 to $131 billion in 2016. General Electric Company (NYSE:GE) expects revenues from its water recycling technologies to grow by about 10% annually through at least 2016.

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