Over the last decade, climate change has catapulted from a debatable topic to a full-fledged, modern crisis facing the planet. In each new study that is published we learn more about the significant negative impact human activities have on our climate. NASA states that the planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 1.62°F (0.9°C) in the last century. And, it comes as no surprise the changes in temperature are caused mainly by human activities, which often release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. As such, the most significant contributors to greenhouse gases come from burning fossil fuels, deforestation, industrial processes, and some agricultural practices.
Scientists around the world agree that climate change is one of the greatest threats of the 21st century and it has, and will continue to result in economic damages, population displacement, severe weather, and resource scarcity—All of which are predicted to intensify in the future. Along with the environmental consequences, climate change poses a substantial risk to businesses throughout the world. The New York Times references a report conducted by the CDP, which asked firms to calculate how climate change might affect their business financially. After analyzing submissions for 215 of the world's 500 biggest corporations, the CDP found that companies potentially face roughly $1 trillion in costs related to climate change in the decades ahead unless they start preparing, with a majority of financial risk materializing over the next five years.
If current weather trends continue, corporations can expect to experience a major hit to their bottom lines. A study from August 2015 found that an increase of 4.5°C in global temperatures could shrink the global domestic product by $72 trillion. Another report from Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley predicts that climate change may reduce the average income in the United States by 36 percent by 2100. While some businesses do not understand the importance of prioritizing climate change right now, those who do recognize it as a top concern realize the perpetual impact climate change will have on their bottom line.
Given that human activity is the leading cause of climate change, conscious companies around the world face a critical challenge: Evolve outdated business practices to more responsibly source, produce, distribute, and sell the products and services with sustainability top of mind. Organizations like Patagonia, Ikea, and Microsoft, are committed to improving their environmental footprints. However, many businesses do not believe they can make an impact on or prioritize climate change due to their size or lack of resources. The reality is that is simply not true! Every business, no matter how big or small, can prioritize fighting climate change with the resources they have and the knowledge that doing so will help their bottom line. In fact, small corporations represent 99.9 percent of businesses in the U.S., and all companies need to participate in stopping climate change and in making a lasting impact!
By focusing on climate change resiliency, business leaders have the opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save money, and attract more loyal employees and customers. Now, businesses who make climate change a priority can prepare for what may come in the future and have a leg up on their competition who are not taking steps to address climate-related issues and risks. Read the information outlined below to learn more about the causes of climate change, how it impacts the planet, and what business can do about it, no matter how small.
What Is Climate Change?
As previously mentioned, climate change refers to any significant change in measures of climate, such as temperature, wind, and precipitation. Generally speaking, climate change is caused primarily by human activities that result in increased air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The greenhouses gases act as a blockage, not allowing the heat to escape the Earth. This process, known as the greenhouse effect, causes the atmosphere to trap more heat than it used to, leading to a warmer planet. NASA scientists have observed that many of the warmest years on record have happened in the past 20 years. Without a major reduction in emissions, the increase in annual average global temperatures could reach 9 degrees more by the end of this century. As a result, we will see warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, rising sea levels, forest fires, and more extreme weather events.
According to CNN, climate disasters point to several areas where businesses face increased risks. In 2018, natural disasters and extreme weather resulted in $160 billion worth of damage, and these figures are forecasted to surpass this number in the near future. Beyond that, studies predict that temperature changes have the potential to slow our economic growth and reduce incomes by 23 percent by the end of this century. In addition to economic damages, the unpredictable weather will hinder businesses by reducing the availability of raw materials, disrupting supply chains, reducing demands for goods and services, and changing resource availability and costs. Nobody knows for certain how climate change will influence business decisions, but the risks associated with it will demand action from business entities around the world.
The Business Impact of Climate Change
In 2015, nearly 200 nations throughout the world adopted The Paris Agreement, which set a global framework to avoid global temperature rise below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. At that time, many saw the agreement as an opportunity to address climate change. For example, more than 1,250 companies have made climate commitments through the We Mean Business Coalition, which catalyzes business leaders to drive policy change and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy. While getting involved, many businesses have found that taking a stance against climate change is not only beneficial to the environment, but also good for business. By focusing on cutting emissions and lowering their carbon footprints, enterprises of all sizes can reduce energy usage, decrease costs, and improve their brand image. Below, we detail more opportunities for businesses large and small to join the fight against climate change and how you can truly make a difference by implementing these actions:
Reimagine your waste habits
The ways by which we manage our waste has major effects on climate change. In 2017, more than 139 million tons of MSW (52.1 percent) were landfilled. Studies indicate that both deforestation and landfills account for an estimated 25 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions annually. While completely eliminating waste is not realistic, EPA research suggests that waste prevention is the best management option, followed by recycling, in terms of climate benefits. The EPA estimates that increasing our national recycling rate from 30 percent to 35 percent could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 10 million metric tons of carbon equivalent.
Furthermore, recycling eliminates the need for raw materials, minimizes the release of greenhouse gases, and saves energy. In fact, recycling one ton of paper can save 17 trees from being cut down, representing a 64% reduction in energy consumption, a 58% reduction in water usage, and a 60 pound reduction of air pollution. And, as a result, tree preservation leads to the protection of water catchment areas and promotes the capture of carbon dioxide, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Even more, recycling leads to decreased waste costs, saving businesses money in the long run!
To help businesses grasp the impact of preventing waste, and instead, recycling, the EPA created the following example: Assume your business throws away 100 tons of paper each year. If you recycle just half of that paper, look at what could happen:
Food waste is also known to be a significant driver of climate change. Every year, Americans waste approximately 133 billion pounds (31 percent) of the overall food supply, representing 22 percent of discarded municipal solid waste. This represents 22 percent of all discarded municipal solid waste in the United States. This creates a major problem because when food waste reaches landfills, it decomposes anaerobically and releases methane, a gas 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Not only should businesses focus on changing their agricultural processes to reduce emissions, but they also need to take proactive steps towards preventing food waste. Whether you own a fast-food restaurant, or oversee a building cafeteria, composting can help turn organic waste into new resources, thereby reducing methane and greenhouse gas emissions. For information about how RoadRunner can help businesses minimize waste and improve efficiency, learn about learn about RoadRunner’s recycling and composting services.
Increase awareness among employees and customers
In the United States, the average person's activities emits 19 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year, taking enough space to fill the inside of three Statues of Liberty. Imagine the amount of greenhouse gases all of the employees at your business produce! The best way to encourage individuals to make a difference is by educating them about the impact their actions have on the environment. There are easy steps every company can take to educate and encourage stakeholders to act sustainability, making a difference both inside and outside of the building in the fight against climate change. Creating a “green” team is a great place to start. This group of passionate employees will help identify opportunities to improve environmental initiatives, as well as spread the message across the organization. Nowadays, customers and consumers expect businesses to act sustainably. A recent study found that 90 percent of individuals agreed that companies have a responsibility to take care of the planet and its people.
Minimize business travel
When it comes to human activities, air travel is one of the top emission generators. In 2017, transportation accounted for 29 percent of total greenhouse gases emitted into the environment. The New York Times suggests that for many people, flying is their greatest “environmental sin,” noting that, “if you take five long flights a year, they may well account for three-quarters of the emissions you create.” According to data from the International Council on Clean Transportation, commercial air travel produced 918 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2018, a 32 percent increase over the last five years.
Organizations who understand the negative environmental impacts that business travel creates should minimize business travel whenever possible. Luckily, video conferencing technology has made it easier than ever to connect customers and coworkers across the globe. Also, foregoing the use of planes and switching to alternative modes of transportation is significantly more energy-efficient. Traveling by train or bus is up to 90 percent more carbon-efficient than traveling by air. Moreover, driving a car, or taking public transportation, is also a more sustainable option than flying most of the time!
Choose sustainable suppliers
As companies take on carbon reduction strategies internally, it’s essential to focus on external factors as well. Making smarter purchasing decisions and working with sustainable suppliers ensures sustainability remains a priority throughout the entire supply chain. Now more than ever, suppliers are offering more sustainable products and services. By choosing to work with environmentally conscious suppliers, businesses can contribute to protecting the environment while also saving money by using products that use less energy, produce less waste, and last longer. On the reverse side, suppliers are also in an ideal position to benefit their business by focusing on sustainability. By dedicating and investing more time into sustainable practices, suppliers will see higher cost savings and energy efficiency, as well as less waste production than those who do not prioritize sustainability. The best part is, according to a Nielsen study, 55 percent of global online consumers would pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact.
Cut energy Consumption
According to Science Daily, energy consumption is responsible for over one-third of all carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. And what’s more, the average office building spends over $30,000 per year on energy. Needless to say, focusing on energy reduction can result in big wins for businesses, both in terms of sustainability and cost savings. Many business owners start by updating their energy systems to LED lighting, optimizing heating and cooling systems, and purchasing ENERGY STAR certified products. The EPA estimates that businesses could save over 1.5 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions if every office product purchased in the U.S. were ENERGY STAR certified. By using less energy, these products help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that lead to climate change. With all that being said, by focusing on energy reduction, buildings could significantly cut their greenhouse gas emissions, and make a difference while contributing to the fight against climate change.
As the risks associated with climate change become more serious, now is the time to start planning for how your organization will adapt its outdated business practices. Perhaps by reading this post, you’ve realized that your business can focus more closely on waste reduction, or that maybe there’s an opportunity to work with more sustainable suppliers. Whichever focus you choose to prioritize, there are several ways businesses can act to combat climate change. What it all boils down to, is most business owners realizing that updating their practices to reduce emissions is not only good for the planet, but for their business, too! In the comments section below, let us know what your main climate change focuses are. For more information on how investing in sustainable behavior can help your business’ bottom line, check out our resources: How to Reduce the Carbon Footprint of Your Business, What is a Circular Economy?, and The 5 R'S: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle. For a summary of the information outlined in this post, feel free to download and share this graphic below: