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Climate Competitiveness:
The New Way Leading Corporations Are Charting The Future While Battling Climate Change

By Bruce Piasecki.

Bruce Piasecki, a former corporation owner and founder, is the author of Doing more with Less: The New Way of Winning, a WSJ and NYTimes bestseller.
This is an adaptable excerpt from Piasecki’s new 21st book Wealth and Climate Competitiveness: The New Narrative on Business and Society, Please work with him directly at to amend or extend.


"At its core, climate competitiveness is about using your business, with all the tools of capitalism, to address and respond to large social demands."

—Bruce Piasecki

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For decades, several in my firm have worked with the leading corporations in the world. Toyota, Merck, Walgreens Boots Alliance, a dozen key utilities in America and Europe, Trane, and bp, about 300 firms involving 3000 leaders. This essay sums up my career findings.

First, a valid disclosure. Why did we serve these major firms, several involving 60,000 or more highly skilled people in 50 to 50 nations, besides the direct benefit of intelligent money-making?

In short, to sum up 40 years in business: To help them strategize how to achieve success and growth in a world that has become increasingly swift and severe. We have studied our client CEOs from the Fortune 500 like Vladimir Nabokov studied his butterflies, to quote a friend of mine Paul Grondahl, the executive director and CEO of the New York State Writer’s Institute. I found these CEOS served both swift and severe, matching this new world, but often more decisive ways than the rest of us.


How does this corporate change work differ from the work of my books: No much, the only difference is speed of change, the IQ of the CEO is different than that from traditional and new age publishers. The ways of publishing my books are much slower and more deliberate that their rapid fire strategies involving a view of current markets, technological change, and new opportunities, as well as honest and often failing responses to changing customer and social expectations. Thus, time at age 69, for a career summary reflection, sharing some casework on competitive principles not allowed while serving the clients.

To be sportive for a bit, think of this rumination being a modern more severe equivalent to Marco Polo’s Memoir of his Adventures in the real world of China and elsewhere to India during the time of Dante and biblical myths and beliefs. But my adventure encountered different kinds of Kubla Khans, both men and women, and a range of legal, technical and financial experts carrying their own swords and aims.

 What was the essence of our change management work? To work with busy executives with a smart brevity that allowed our experts to bring changes in society into their corporate mansions, swiftly and reliably.

The Framing Issue of Energy and Climate Crisis

While our Board and corporate client work has always considered climate change an important part of the equation when looking at the future, recently there has been a new strategy taken up by some of the world’s most successful companies.

As recorded in detain in my older books, World Inc, and The Surprising Solution, this major change involves external pressures transforming the smart corporations to what I call “climate competitiveness”. In this article,  I wish give you insights into some of this fascinating work, and the principles that have emerged, as I worked with five large corporation on climate competitiveness in this last decade of my career, often running 40 person councils of mixed external experts with internal decisionmakers, from CEOs, CFOs, general counsels, and key financial executives. believe this social response approach brings hope and social charity not just to business looking to create profit, but for all of us looking to address climate change and create a better world.


What is Climate Competitiveness?

Before we talk more about my work with the five secretive and accomplished global firms, it is important to first understand what “climate competitiveness” means:

1.  At its core, climate competitiveness is about using your business, with all the tools of capitalism, to address and respond to large social demands.

Climate competitiveness is a comprehensive corporate response to a range of issues surrounding business and society. It is larger than the kinds of corporate strategy seminars you hear at the best business schools. Climate competitiveness involves the blending of private scientific and market knowledge, both corporate culture and corporate ambitions, years ahead of anticipated carbon taxes and regulatory demand. We need enough wealth in the system of corporations to allow such innovation.

2.  Climate competitiveness involves a responsible, steady, resolve-based focus on lessons derived from human behavior and social movements. 

In other words, when it works best, climate competitiveness is a corporate response to social needs. It took many direct and sneaky skills for Marco Polo to roam successfully with his persons into private realms of power and intrigue.

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3.  None of this work represents the normal prejudice that speculative capitalists are birds of prey, swooping over markets to exploit and kill. 

Instead, it explores how it took one hundred years of social thinking and social movements to bring e-firms into their current positions on the climate crisis as real and concerning future competitive advantage. What is true, is that this kind of work takes panic and resolve, the two forward-looking features of the human psyche.

4.  The bottom line: Each of the five firms proved themselves a reliable business in society, not a business beside society. That is required before you can see climate competitiveness at work.


The Power in Climate Competitiveness

One of Marco Polo’s lasting skills in penetrating foreign lands of unique structures and power was his observational skills.

A corporation could not become climate competitive without social demand for it. That is the primary fact of social history and cultural change. There is a set of signals in capital markets and government rulemaking that requires, by implication, such changes in corporate practice.

But that is not the full story, it does not capture the full force of change evident in the roll of history itself. If you only think of corporate leaders as about corporate practice, you neglect their particular personalities and social skills that got them their high paying jobs in the first place. I trained our lawyers and engineers to focus on the social skills of our clients, not just their market positions. This equipped us to response to social pressures like climate change challenges in a more agile way then our competitors from McKinsey to the Boston Consulting Group.

Again, climate competitiveness is about responding with all the tools of capitalism to these larger social demands. That is the key—addressing in act and staff the larger social demands. All firms have the purpose of making money, but those that integrate social needs— such as issues integral to climate and energy choices—into their actions can expand their margins and compound them. This I’ve called to clients “the compounding effect of social response capitalism.”


Social Response Capitalism

My books like World Inc have been translated into Japanese, Korean, Greek, Portuguese (both Latin and European editions). What did I learn from attaching the word social to capitalism” Well there are plenty of Texans and Californians suspicious of this hybrid phrase I began writing about—social response capitalism.

In responding to social needs, the five leading firms we will discuss in this article have emerged and matured a set of principles reshaping capitalism and new world companies. At the core of this challenge is corporate responses that matter and last for combatting climate change.

Of the eighty different companies listed in my firm’s Corporate Affiliates pages and documents (see last column at ), the five firms discussed in this article paid to join my ongoing leadership workshops— and thereby learn from each other. Having them invest in a spirit of open learning in a sanctuary of corporate peers is key to unlock the competitive principles we found in the aspiring and the successful.

We focus here on five exceptional leading firms because after years with our companies in the Affiliate leader-to-leader workshops. From those 3000 leaders, about ten percent of them then retained us for specific purposes and groups within their firm as “change agents,” consultants on a defined mission of change regarding climate, energy, and competition. This passage reflects on the five most effective firms both in stock results, market growth, and leadership training.

We selected these five clients because they all shared a sustained desire to address climate and energy needs of our world. Their actions were sincere, and their executives focused and driven.

Unfortunately, I cannot name all the companies here. I was paid, in confidence, to offer change management and competitive councils within these major firms. I cannot for another ten years write about those specific corporate changes, or the specific personnel in question, without earning the disapproval or lawsuits of my past clients. Silenced until age 79 by most, this type of work parallels service to the world’s intelligence agencies. So, what I offer here are general and accurate summaries, not named case studies.

The Role of Benchmarking in Corporate Change Work

All great firms study their competition, both immediate and near term (ten years out). They “benchmark” their competitor’s positioning and promises, and then attempt to exceed them.

We provide two short examples from the large pharma firm Johnson & Johnson. We never served Johnson & Johnson directly (although I was sent to Wall Street to assess the range of their CEO’s speech and interactions before CECP once). One client dove deep into Johnson & Johnson and Exxon Mobil because this client had curiosity about their marketing claims on climate promises and positions. We also always gave our clients examples of smaller innovators like you see below in the case of Novartis. I never worked at Novartis, although one member of my research team had.

We advised each of our five leading clients on “their positions relative to the benchmarking reports,” which of course are confidential, often submitted only to the General Counsel and the Corporate Secretary, seriously under lock and key. Some of my staff would be fired by the client for violations, that I could not control from Saratoga our HQ.

You know it is sensitive when these studies go first to these folks rather than first to your usual client executive decision-making manager of the project. The point being we had a boxful of first-hand interviews and data on many competitors, who sometimes spoke at our workshops in PowerPoint sets, as we facilitated the competitive change at the client home/mansion. That meant we had expertise and research in five of the dominant ten big greenhouse-emitting industries, constituting the bulk of the impact—from energy and utilities to big pharma and the entire medical ecosystem of suppliers and users like hostitals.

Please also note that great firms often ask for benchmarking outside of their direct industry type. The modern giant firms often retain three “competing” advisory groups like EY and Boston Consulting Group, at different levels of the organization. These groups are much larger than my boutique firm. This enables them to afford expert researchers in all ten of the major industries contributing to the climate crisis. My books gave me a leg up on early hires in this space, but over time, I lost more and more to EY and Boston Consulting Group as they built up their global capabilities and staff.

Nonetheless, these five leading giants did engage us many times for benchmarking services. Here are two summary examples among hundreds we provided between the five leading clients in the last decade, always up to the date of submission of the work.

J&J and Biojen Commitments

Johnson & Johnson

  • Sourcing 100% of electricity needs from renewable sources by 2025

  • Achieving carbon neutrality in operations by 2030

  • Energy efficiency effort while evaluating alternative fuel sources, fleet vehicle choices and refrigerants towards zero emissions

  • Reducing upstream carbon footprint by 20% by 2030

  • Launch new work streams in carbon intensive procurement categories including logistics, chemicals, external manufacturing and packaging, among others


  • Launched HealthyClimate, HealthyLives—$250M, 20-year initiative

  • Become fossil fuel free—to go beyond carbon neutrality by eliminating emissions by 2040

  • Collaborating with global leaders, including MIT and the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, to use data science and predictive analytics to drive strategies to mitigate environmental and health impacts from climate change as well as influence policy and improve health outcomes, particularly for the world’s most vulnerable populations

Source: Biogen Inc. Sept. 14, 2020

Novartis Sustainable Efforts & Goals

Next Generation Goals:

  • Carbon neutrality in own operations

  • 0% carbon emissions reduction across value chain

  • Water neutrality

  • Plastic neutrality

  • Pushing hard into renewables

  • Virtual PPA—Wind Farm, TX—eliminating carbon footprint in US and Canada for all electricity


Social Impact = 30g400% ROI in local communities

Supply Chain:

  • Partnership with MIT—identify 4 key risk factors of climate change at 70 global sites

  • Help remove barriers and ensure access to suppliers (increased technology, renewable energy, offset programs)


Environmental targets / objectives are a part of the personal objective of senior leaders. Provide information / resources to associates.

Looking Ahead:

  • How technology will scale

  • Power of digital technologies to track and predict impact on environment; track carbon footprint in real time and how their actions being taken are impacting their footprint

  • Go beyond operations and across the value chain


Source: 505 Sustainability and Climate Leaders

Some great firms work hard to differentiate their offerings in a social context, for competitive advantage. Yet in the case of our five leading examples in the last decade, they often started with aggressive benchmarking of their direct and indirect competitors for advantage regarding the scientific and general executives needs of greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Then they kept their insights and competitive positions secret for ten years, minimum.

Gathering Experts

The next step for these firms was to establish advisory councils of outside experts. That was our differentiating skills based on the 3000 executives in our leadership network across decades.

By the end of 2023, I was scanning the globe to provide data bio sheets of about a hundred of the world’s leading experts, from investment houses to other giant firms like Lockheed Martin, to Board members and doctors and independent lawyers.

You need to remain humble in designing these teams, as they are only outsiders after all. They have no executive decision-making authority within the host corporate mansion, even though they may be running their own organizations with hundreds of staff. We went into each selection process of our world trends experts knowing that these five leading firms had mature risk management teams. Thus, both risk profiles (kept private) and regional risks were paramount in World Trend Expert final selections, I found.

The five firms tended to select executives, not lawyers or doctors, in most cases. Yet one doctor, who founded a Medical Consortium on Climate and Public Health, was selected by three of the five leading firms with me. Here name is Dr. Mona Sarfaty from Harvard, and Upstate Medical, and the founder of the Medical Consortium on Climate and Public Health.

Here is the lesson to take at this point:

There is a wealth of expertise on climate innovation out there who are able and willing to help you in whatever way you choose to engage in climate competitiveness. You make good money when you can guide these selections of expert committees. But we never made the choices, we gave dozens of options, and the firms chose the leaders to work with, that I then facilitated for years.


The Takeaways on Wealth and Climate

Again, while I cannot share the specifics of the work we did with these five firms, I can summarize the key take aways that developed over these efforts. That is the purpose of my new book Wealth and Climate Competitiveness, now summarized in this excerpt.

We found in the history of our workshops, especially these last ten years (2013 to 2023) several key attributes that mattered on the path to climate competitiveness:

1.  The corporate mission must be aligned with global trends, not simply their existing five-year product development strategy. That is a compelling and disabling limit in how corporate strategy is taught to old world executives today, even at the great business schools. 

Old world strategy could reside mostly in financial literacy and legal precedent. But this new kind of world dealt more with the intersection of global megatrends and climate science, as well as national and regional needs about floods, asset protection, and severe weather on workers. That is what makes these World Trend Expert Councils so modern and insightful.

2.  The council results on scope one and scope two emissions must maximize positive returns to customers and their surrounding communities. 

Social response capitalism responds to global trends in legislation, the press, and the investment community. It remains a vital part of the present, and future, of major corporations.

Social response capitalism provides an alert firm the license to operate in society and the investment community, and it ensures that these leading firms maintain those capacities in the future. That is the basis of investment, not just credit worthiness.

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3.  The map was often, at the five, used a map to remind ourselves of their global research and manufacturing scope. 

The map was often (three of the five cases) presented to us by their global head of facilities at the time.


In this way, we stayed close to “actual” and “operational” capitalist needs of the firm. Social response firms— if truly great—do not fall prey to vague notions of corporate responsibility. This requires attention to talent pools, and to focus on social trends more lasting than temporary market perturbations.

4.  We knew, from our study of social movements, that each of the five leading clients, needed to improve partnerships at major stakeholder institutions— such as universities and think tanks—across the world, and that they had to strengthen their brand and reputation for improved transparency. 

This is historically still true for most of our workshop firms, and that is why they keep coming back to refine their prospects. This is how the great firms emerge from the lesser ones in their search to doing more with less, and to bend the curve on global warming.


5.  Finally, in each of the five leading firms these new century trends stood out: Their core leaders share the same financial discipline to protecting and enhancing their portfolio returns, yet each was sensitive to response to rapidly increasing climate pressures. 

In other words, they are expert at financial literacy but they go beyond it in affording to address social needs in trends and actions.


By the end of each assignment inside a corporate mansion, we do not leave totally successful. You do not win all your points. When you work for an intelligent set of strong executives, you learn to get to essences quickly. This is what made our work so exciting through the decades. But how did my training allow this kind of big picture change work? With the help of some silent partners. Here is the fun part of my career summary: It paid to keep the humanistic tradition in mind, not just the MBA perspective.

The Silent Partners

My silent partners in many of my consulting assignments have been the medical findings of Freud (as modernized by neuroscience and the cognitive sciences), the sense of competition for resources in Darwin (as modernized by modern scientific studies of people and cultures in change), and an appreciation of the power in Henry David Thoreau, as a signal of things to come in social expectations about privacy, peace of mind, and human creativity. These giants helped us advance our appreciation of both business and society. Some of our best Corporate Affiliates were large extractive industries like mining giants, who build things. Who would have guessed their executives were so well read?

Let’s start with Thoreau. I have come to conclude, after forty years of management practice, that it takes Thoreau’s civic tone of mind to become climate competitive. Here are a few Thoreau quotes from my travelling notebook that I used again and again in facilitation practice:

  1. “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

  2. “Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”

  3. “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”

  4. “Our truest life is when we are in our dreams awake.”

  5. “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”

  6. “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”

  7. “Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.”

  8. “True friendship can afford true knowledge. It does not depend on darkness and ignorance.”

  9. “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

  10. “Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but religiously follows the new.”


Very few of the leaders in my workshops could laugh at themselves, like Thoreau laughed explicitly at the old-fashioned robber baron habits—as they stretched and reshaped new, more socially responsive aspirations. Yet perhaps this “stiffness” to self-criticism comes with the solemnity of being a major decision maker at major global firms.

Yet the executives that excelled at the featured five firms could at times laugh at themselves. They were open inside their corporate mansions. They are not promoted if they are stray birds of prey. They are promoted for bringing value to society at large and to the firm’s bottom line. In other words, the great firms have leaders that create near future value, not just existing margins. The executives constitute a mansion of expert talent that demonstrates how a business is meant to answer social and public health needs, including the new needs of health created by the climate crisis. In a summary way, all my books tried to make this easy to forget point: great executives are great communicators, not just vicious decision-makers.


And here is the fun part of the change work. I can say from talking with these executives at dinners—after a long day—they have already read the important books first, as Thoreau advised. Many of my best clients have proven themselves learning machines. My five past clients, overall, are staffed at the top by intelligent social engineers who might also be informed global MBAs with a broad comprehensive sense of people, staff, and their changing attitudes on consumption, climate, and work style.

They know the past greats, and they know what is changing in society. It is this dual business and society view that allows the advances in climate competitiveness. In this way, they are applied humanists as well as gifted leaders in terms of proportion, modern corporate diagnostics, and science.

Over these last ten years of day-to-day practice, it was remarkable to see how efficiently workshop attendees (now consisting of over 1000 different people in 40 years) could afford to let idle peripheral things alone, then immediately focus on what was rich and of social use before them.

They had insights both into the power of wealth creation, and the obligations it brought to them in society. This ability to sustain and to shift focus is far more mature in these workshop executives than I saw in training graduates and the average executive MBA at RPI for a decade at the end of last century.

A Hopeful Future

Regardless of how you define your value and expertise, the lesson here is that the future worth of your work lies in finding your role on this path of climate competitiveness. 


Climate competitiveness involves a responsible, steady, resolve-based focus on lessons derived from human behavior and social movements. And by creating solutions based on climate competitiveness, you can advance your organization, and our world, years ahead.

Wealth and Climate Competitiveness:
The New Narrative with Bruce Piasecki

Listen to Bruce Piasecki, and several dozen of his colleagues, discuss his book to find out those 18 competitive principles based on Piasecki’s forty years of working for a number of large and major firms as a change agent, and business founder of

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