Climate change is a global issue that affects all industries and sectors. Businesses must take action to minimise their environmental impact and reduce their carbon footprint. This topic aims to provide knowledge and understanding of how climate change impacts the workplace and the actions that can be taken to minimise its impact.
Impact of climate change
Climate change refers to the long-term changes in temperature, precipitation, wind patterns, and other indicators of Earth’s climate due to human activities, such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing the planet to warm. These gases include carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapour, and a variety of human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels, agriculture, and landfills produce them. In a working environment, the impact of climate change and greenhouse gases can be felt through extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, droughts, and storms, which can disrupt business operations and affect the health and safety of employees.
Climate change refers to the long-term changes in the Earth’s climate, including temperature, precipitation, and wind patterns. It is caused by the emission of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. These gases trap heat from the sun, causing the Earth’s temperature to rise. This can lead to various negative consequences, including more frequent and severe heat waves, droughts, storms, and rising sea levels. Climate change can have a significant impact on the environment, as well as on human health and well-being, particularly in vulnerable communities. It can also have economic impacts, including the loss of livelihoods, damage to infrastructure, and reduced productivity.
Causes of Climate Change:
- Greenhouse Gases: The primary cause of climate change is the emission of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide, into the atmosphere. These gases trap heat from the sun, causing the Earth’s temperature to rise.
- Deforestation: Deforestation, or the removal of forests, contributes to climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide trees can absorb. Deforestation also increases the number of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
- Land-use changes: Land-use changes, such as urbanisation and agriculture, can also contribute to climate change. For example, paving over land to build cities reduces the amount of land that can absorb carbon dioxide, while intensive agriculture practices can lead to increased methane emissions.
Greenhouse gases are gases in the atmosphere that trap heat from the sun and contribute to the planet’s warming. The most well-known greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide (CO2), but other gases such as methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases also contribute to the greenhouse effect.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2): Carbon dioxide is the most important greenhouse gas, as it is released in large quantities through human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) for energy and transportation, deforestation, and industrial processes. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by about 40% since the industrial revolution, which is driving the planet’s warming.
Methane (CH4): Methane is a potent greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere through human activities such as extracting and transporting natural gas, cultivating livestock, and decomposing organic waste in landfills. Methane has a much shorter atmospheric lifespan than CO2, but it is much more effective at trapping heat over this short period.
Nitrous Oxide (N2O): Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere through human activities such as agriculture (fertiliser use and manure management), burning fossil fuels, and industrial processes. Nitrous oxide has a long atmospheric lifespan and is approximately 300 times more effective at trapping heat than CO2.
Fluorinated Gases: Fluorinated gases, also known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), are synthetic gases used as refrigerants in air conditioning and refrigeration systems, as well as in some industrial processes. Fluorinated gases are potent greenhouse gases with much higher global warming potential than CO2.
The accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is driving the planet’s warming and leading to significant changes in the Earth’s climate, including rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and more frequent and intense extreme weather events. To address these impacts, it is essential to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and transition to a low-carbon economy. This can be done through measures such as increasing energy efficiency, promoting renewable energy use, and reducing deforestation and agriculture emissions.
Deforestation refers to the removal of forests and the conversion of forested land for other uses. It is a major contributor to climate change and has far-reaching environmental, social, and economic impacts.
Examples of Deforestation:
- Agricultural Expansion: One of the main drivers of deforestation is the expansion of agricultural land. As the global population grows, there is increasing pressure to convert forested land into cropland to feed the growing population. This is particularly true in developing countries where large forest areas are cleared for crops such as soy, palm oil, and cattle ranching.
- Logging: Removing trees for commercial purposes, such as producing paper, furniture, and other wood products, is another major cause of deforestation. Logging often occurs in tropical rainforests, where high demand for valuable hardwoods such as mahogany and teak drives the removal of large forest areas.
- Infrastructure Development: The construction of roads, dams, and other infrastructure projects can also lead to deforestation, as forests are cleared to make way for these developments. For example, the construction of the Trans-Amazonian Highway in Brazil in the 1970s led to widespread deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.
Impacts of Deforestation:
- Climate Change: Deforestation contributes to climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide that forests can absorb. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it as carbon in their wood, leaves, and roots. When forests are cleared, this carbon is released back into the atmosphere, contributing to the overall increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.
- Biodiversity Loss: Forests are home to a large portion of the world’s biodiversity, including many species of plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth. Deforestation can lead to habitat loss for these species, leading to population declines and even extinction.
- Soil Erosion: Forests help to protect soil from erosion, as the roots of trees help to hold the soil in place. When forests are cleared, the soil is more susceptible to erosion, leading to soil degradation and reduced agricultural productivity.
- Impacts on local communities: Deforestation can also significantly impact communities in developing countries. For example, indigenous peoples may be displaced from their land, and local livelihoods may be impacted as forests are cleared for agriculture or other commercial purposes.
Land use changes
Land-use changes refer to how land is used and managed, such as converting forested land to agricultural land, expanding urban areas, and creating infrastructure like roads and buildings. These changes can have significant impacts on the environment, including the release of greenhouse gases, the loss of biodiversity, and soil degradation.
- Agricultural Expansion: One of the main drivers of land-use changes is the expansion of agricultural land. As the global population grows, there is increasing pressure to convert forested land into cropland to feed the growing population. This often involves clearing large forest areas and converting them to farmland, which can lead to soil degradation and biodiversity loss.
- Urbanisation: The growth of cities and towns is another major driver of land-use changes. Urban areas expand as more people move into cities. As cities grow, they often encroach on surrounding rural areas, converting agricultural and forested land into urban land. Urbanisation can also lead to releasing greenhouse gases as buildings, transportation systems, and other infrastructure are constructed.
- Infrastructure Development: The construction of roads, dams, and other infrastructure projects can also lead to land-use changes, as forests and other natural areas are cleared to make way for these developments. For example, the construction of large dams can lead to flooding large areas of land, altering the landscape and displacing local communities.
The impacts of land-use changes can be significant and far-reaching. For example, the conversion of forested land to agricultural land can release large amounts of carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change. The loss of biodiversity and soil degradation can also impact ecosystem services, such as providing food and water. It can also harm local communities that rely on these resources.
It’s important to manage land-use changes sustainably, minimise their negative environmental impacts, and protect the ecosystem services they provide. This can be done through measures such as sustainable agriculture practices, urban planning incorporating green spaces, and protecting forests and other natural areas through conservation efforts.
Excessive business travel can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Encouraging office work and high energy costs can also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions through electricity and other forms of energy. These factors can negatively impact an organisation by increasing its carbon footprint and potentially leading to financial costs associated with reducing emissions. Additionally, the negative effects of climate change, such as extreme weather events and resource shortages, can negatively impact an organisation.
Consequences of Climate Change:
- Rising temperatures: The most noticeable consequence of climate change is rising temperatures, which can cause more frequent and intense heat waves, droughts, and wildfires.
- Melting ice caps: Climate change is causing the polar ice caps to melt, which is causing sea levels to rise and threatening coastal communities with flooding.
- Ocean acidification: As the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it becomes more acidic, harming marine life and disrupting ocean ecosystems.
- Changes in precipitation patterns: Climate change is also causing changes in precipitation patterns, including more frequent and intense storms, droughts, and flooding.
- Impacts on biodiversity: Climate change also affects biodiversity, as species struggle to adapt to changing temperatures and precipitation patterns. This can lead to the loss of biodiversity and the decline of entire ecosystems.
It’s critical to understand both the causes and consequences of climate change to appreciate the urgency of the issue and the importance of taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate its impacts.
Sumerbee Supplies, a chain of building supplies merchants based in East Anglia, recognised the need to minimise the impact of climate change in their workplaces and operations. As a leading player in the construction industry, they realised that their actions could significantly impact the environment and that they needed to take steps to reduce their carbon footprint and promote sustainability.
The first step that Sumerbee Supplies took was to conduct a thorough analysis of their energy use and emissions. They found that a significant portion of their carbon footprint was related to their transportation and delivery operations and electricity use in their stores and warehouses.
In response, Sumerbee Supplies took a number of actions to reduce its impact on the environment. Sumerbee Supplies replaced its delivery fleet with a mix of electric vehicles and hybrids, reducing their emissions and improving their fuel efficiency.
It then upgraded its lighting and HVAC systems to more energy-efficient technologies, reducing its electricity usage and costs. Sumerbee Supplies worked with their suppliers to promote sustainable sourcing and procurement practices, reducing the carbon footprint of their products and operations. The business also engaged its employees in reducing their environmental impact, providing training and resources to help them understand the importance of sustainability and make changes in their own lives.
The outcome of these actions was significant. Sumerbee Supplies reduced its carbon footprint by 25% in the first year alone. They continue to implement new initiatives and practices to reduce their impact on the environment further. They have also seen increased engagement and commitment from their employees, who are proud to be working for a company that is taking action on climate change.
Sumerbee Supplies’ commitment to sustainability has helped to set an example for other businesses in the construction industry and has contributed to the development of a more sustainable and responsible industry. Sumerbee Supplies has demonstrated that businesses can achieve financial success and environmental sustainability by taking action to minimise their environmental impact.
Minimising the Impact of Climate Change
Businesses can play a crucial role in promoting sustainable human behaviour to achieve the targets for SDG 13, which aims to minimise the impact of climate change. Some of the ways businesses can apply sustainable human behaviour in the workplace to help achieve this goal include:
- Implementing Energy Efficiency Measures: Businesses can reduce their energy consumption by implementing energy-efficient measures, such as using energy-efficient lighting, HVAC systems, and equipment.
- Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Businesses can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by transitioning to renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, and hydropower.
- Encouraging Sustainable Commuting: Businesses can encourage employees to use sustainable modes of transport, such as carpooling, cycling, or public transport.
- Implementing Waste Reduction Programmes: Businesses can reduce their waste output by implementing waste reduction programmes, such as recycling and composting programmes.
- Promoting Sustainable Purchasing Practices: Businesses can reduce their environmental impact by purchasing environmentally friendly products made from sustainable materials and produced through sustainable methods.
By implementing these strategies and promoting sustainable human behaviour in the workplace, businesses can play a significant role in minimising the impact of climate change and achieving the targets of SDG 13.