Adapting Business Continuity: Navigating Climate Change Challenges

Adapting Business Continuity: Navigating Climate Change Challenges

Climate change is a controversial topic, to be sure. But the 28 natural disasters, with an estimated $92.9 billion price tag, and a record for the eighth deadliest year for the United States, don’t lie. My apologies…I don’t mean to be the bearer of such disconcerting news, but these statistics from demonstrate the massive impact of climate change and the increase we’re seeing in climate-related events year after year.

And these numbers are only indicative of what we have experienced in the U.S. throughout the past year. Worldwide in 2023, that number climbed dramatically to 240 natural disasters. According to EM-DAT, the International Disaster Database for the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, there was a “60 percent rise in the number of deaths from landslides, a 278 percent increase in deaths from wildfires and a 340 percent increase in deaths from storms between 2022 and 2023.”

As you can see, there is an upward trend in not just the number of incidents we’re experiencing due to climate change, but also the impact we’re seeing as a result – both to individuals (including credit union members, community members and staff members) and businesses. The Disaster Recovery Journal states that, “More than one in four organizations worldwide are already feeling the effects of climate change.” Meanwhile, “just one in six have devised a plan to adapt to future climate change.”

Ok, so that’s a lot of information and statistics, but they are crucial to our understanding of how credit unions should be preparing to address this very real, very serious and very present issue. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my many years as a credit union risk professional, it’s that the rise in severe weather incidents, greenhouse gases, melting glaciers, etc. mean one thing: our ability to be resilient demands that we take climate change seriously and incorporate appropriate responses into our business continuity practices.


Taking the Steps to Achieve Adaptability

Where to start when it comes to making business continuity more “climate change-friendly” – that is the question, indeed. Well, there is no specific roadmap, per se, but there are some steps you can take to get the ball rolling.

  1. Run scenarios that highlight the influences of climate change. What areas of your business would be impacted if, for example, sudden storms or massive flooding occurred? Would your vendors still be functional? Would your supply chains for things like debit cards and on-hand currency be disrupted? Would your branch sustain damage? Would your staff be available and, if so, capable of continuing daily processing operations? Would your data center and servers survive any physical intrusion? All of these are ways your credit union may be impacted by climate-related events, which means they are situations you should make arrangements for. There are so many scenarios to consider, but it’s better to be overly prepared than not enough.
  2. Conduct assessments…and then some more. Do you know what never hurts your business continuity planning process? Performing risk assessments. This will show you where your vulnerabilities lie so you can properly create and implement climate change response policies. Use the items you found while identifying various climate-related influences to steer the direction of your assessments, as they will directly impact your institution’s future business continuity plans. Testing the resilience of your current policies and procedures is then needed to see if they would stand up to any effects of climate change.
  3. Take stock of your assets and resources. What do you currently have at your disposal to assist in making preparations for climate change incidents? Do you utilize cloud technology for backing up your data? Do you have remote work plans for your staff? Do you have a generator system in place to power your institution in the event of an extended outage? Make a list of all the resources you already have available that will benefit your business continuity operations in the event of a climate-related incident. Then, integrate these into your plans and determine areas where you may need additional support.

Strategies for Resilience

Now that you’ve put your current infrastructure in perspective, it’s time to take all that data and create new strategies, policies, plans and procedures that aim to ensure your credit union’s resilience and sustainability in the face of increasing climate change risks. Maximize your strategies with the following considerations in mind:

  • Diversify your supply chains. It might be wise to have main suppliers and backup suppliers, preferably in different locations, just in case. That way, if one supplier is unable to accommodate your needs, another may be available to provide the items you need, which will cause less disruption to your business.
  • Be collaborative and transparent with your vendors. If your credit union is facing impacts from climate change, so are your vendors. Work together to implement agreements and policies where both parties can be adaptive in response to climate-related events. Share knowledge from both sides so everyone can benefit.
  • Invest in infrastructure improvements. Earlier, we discussed learning what you do and don’t have at the ready to make your organization more secure in the event of climate hazards. Here is where you can put those necessary improvements into place. Consider fortifying your physical location(s) in case of extreme weather, upgrading your IT infrastructures to combat against situations where technology failure is imminent and so on.
  • Stay on top of current events and regulations changes. A key component in any business continuity strategy is being informed. Pay attention to climate-related events around the world and their implications. Then, be on the lookout for any regulatory updates or requirements that are created in response to those events. Look to organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), World Health Organization (WHO) and the like for the latest on any climate-related news. Whether we think about it often or not, we live in a highly interconnected world where what happens on an entirely different continent creates a ripple effect that can reach the doorsteps of our institutions.
  • Make monitoring a priority. Monitor everything – from worldwide climate change initiatives and events to your own internal business continuity measures – and do it often. To be most effective in maintaining your resilience in the face of climate change, you must adhere to the idea that every new situation is a learning experience and even the most well thought out plans are a work in progress.
  • Focus on employee training. Employees are your most valuable and essential resource, so make sure they are well aware and properly trained for the impact of climate-related events. Whether that means having them report to your disaster recovery location or simply understanding their specific roles in the response plan, placing extra emphasis on employee training and involvement will be a critical piece of your climate change resilience strategy.
  • Additional factors. This is not an all-inclusive list because things are always changing, particularly when it comes to the rapid rate of climate change. However, other aspects to incorporate in your climate change preparations might include factors such as health and safety risks (does the pandemic ring a bell?), insurance coverage, asset valuation and other financial impacts, etc.

It's true that climate change is controversial, but one thing it isn’t, is passive. It doesn’t care whether you’re prepared to weather hurricanes, wildfires, massive power outages, severe flooding, global warming, depletion of natural resources or anything else that its destruction brings. But your credit union does need to care because we are seeing the very real impacts each and every day – look again to those statistics as a reminder of just how real. Let these events be the wake up call to your institution’s business continuity program and a new way of thinking that does not just acknowledges climate change, but also plans ahead for future challenges, which allows your credit union to remain functional by applying strategies to build resilience.

Mark Clarke works as the business continuity administrator for Vizo Financial Corporate Credit Union. In this role, Mr. Clarke supports the performance of business continuity planning, business impact analysis and business continuity training for the Corporate and the credit union industry. Mr. Clarke also delivers tailored consulting services for credit unions, assisting them with their specific business continuity needs.