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Navigating the climate crisis

by jarred

Building climate action into the DNA of businesses

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with organisations, Climate Navigator is on a mission to combat climate change through bold and innovative business strategies.

Although polished and put together, if you bumped into Sam Elder on the street you would have never suspected that she spent over a decade working as an engineer and project manager on space missions like that which NASA claims will be the “largest, most powerful and complex space telescope ever built and launched into space” – the James Webb Telescope.

With her work in the space industry well behind her, Sam Elder is now the founder and principal consultant at Climate Navigator, an impact-driven strategy and transformation consultancy.

To talk more about her work, Sam and I met at a local coffee shop in Lincoln. But before we made our way into the café, one of Sam’s acquaintances waved her down.

The two briefly caught up, but in their exchange Sam’s acquaintance shared how she was an inspiration to him in his career.

After talking with Sam, I can see how easy it is to feel inspired. She’s knowledgeable and passionate about combatting climate change. Her devotion to the cause is contagious and spurs others into action.

However, Sam’s journey to establishing Climate Navigator was a long time in the making. In 2005, Sam and her family moved from the UK to New Zealand. Since there wasn’t much of a space industry in New Zealand at the time, Sam redirected her energy towards tackling environmental issues.

While living in New Zealand, Sam took up management and directorial positions across private and public sector organisations.

The last position she held before starting Climate Navigator was the role of senior strategy manager at Environment Canterbury. Among other responsibilities, Sam led the design and implementation of the Council’s new Climate Change Integration programme.

Then in 2020, in spite of the uncertainty intrinsic to COVID-19, the urgency of the climate crisis compelled Sam to establish Climate Navigator.

How it works

Sam explains that the inspiration behind Climate Navigator is the belief that society must fundamentally transform within a decade to win the war on climate change and New Zealand is uniquely positioned to act as a pathfinder for
the world.

“To do this everyone needs to play their part and NZ organisations can position for long-lasting success by embedding bold climate action into their DNA – flipping their business models to become part of the solution to our greatest global challenge,” Sam says.

However, designing for impact and dealing with change can be daunting for any organisation, whether it’s a start up just trying to get its feet on the ground or a longstanding business set in its ways. That’s where Climate Navigator
steps forward.

“It’s about having a clear purpose or ‘North Star’ and designing your organisation so that you can successfully navigate through uncertainty and disruption towards the goals that you have set,” she says.

“It means constantly scanning your horizon, what’s going on outside of your organisation, what it might mean for you in the short, medium and long term.

“Being prepared to re-examine your course, your strategy, and be adaptive – embracing change rather than seeing it as a negative. We’re here to help organisations build their capacity to do this.

“Like anything, you need really effective governance and leadership to make it happen and that leadership needs to be fully committed to the goals for the long haul.”

Furthermore, Sam says organisations need teams that believe in the changes being implemented, are prepared to break down silos, work together and have the right combination of skills and experience to succeed.

To understand an organisation’s context, Sam sits down with organisational leaders to explore how they might adapt their strategy or innovate their business model to manage climate-related risks while maximising opportunities for positive impact.

Then it’s about implementation, learning along the way and being vigilant and adaptive to their evolving external context.

“Ultimately, we want every organisation to be successfully contributing solutions to the climate crisis and inter-woven sustainability issues, so it’s just embedded in their DNA – it’s what they do, and they know how to do it,” says Sam.

Leading the change

One organisation Sam is excited to work with is Orion.

“I already knew that Orion was taking climate change seriously – they were one of the first NZ companies to release a TCFD-based climate risk report, and announced a commitment to achieving carbon neutrality for corporate emissions by 2022. But when I spoke to them, I discovered they have this really holistic and inspiring purpose.

“Orion’s role as an electricity distribution company might seem straightforward, quite ‘contained’ if you like.

“But the potential for the energy sector, and in particular distribution companies, to enable the transition to zero-carbon and climate resilience in a way which creates a whole range of other positive outcomes, is actually huge.

“Orion has really embraced this potential with their purpose of powering a cleaner and brighter future for our communities and their ambitious strategy to deliver to this.”

The focus now is on bringing the strategy to life, and Sam is supporting that transformation by accelerating the process of turning strategy into action.

“It’s early days, but what I love about it is it’s exactly the kind of work that we set out to do with Navigator, and it’s exactly the kind of organisation we wanted to work with.

“They’re an authentic team, taking a bold and inspiring path and demonstrating real leadership and commitment on climate change and sustainability. You can’t ask for much more,” Sam says.

Paying it forward

When starting up the new consultancy, Sam found people were generous with their time and willing to sit down with her and brainstorm what would later become Climate Navigator.

To pay it forward, Sam likes to take the time to grab a coffee or flesh out ideas on a whiteboard with budding entrepreneurs also looking to change the world for the better.

Sam does this because she wants to model the same support she experienced when starting Climate Navigator.

Although she’s based in Canterbury, Sam is regularly contacted by people throughout New Zealand and around the world who have great skills to offer and want to contribute them to the fight against climate change.

If there is anything that Sam has learned, it’s that we can’t solve the climate crisis alone – we need each other.

Sam says “We need to find new, more flexible and collaborative ways of working in which everyone is able to play their full part. We’re exploring what models might be most effective for this, including how Climate Navigator might contribute.”


By Polly Nichols

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