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Climate Change: What Businesses Need To Do

Continuing the series on climate change (previous articles looking at the 2018 IPCC report and providing advice on how to reduce emissions individually), this piece looks to provide some advice on what businesses could be doing to reduce their contributions to carbon emissions.

Despite the claim from politicians, media outlets and business owners, that the public contributes to emissions the most, and so it will be the public that is to face the blame and foot the bill. The public is being lambasted to actively partake in various recycling efforts, cutbacks, and purchase new eco-friendly “must have” products. Companies are in fact the biggest contributor to global emissions, by a staggering margin. Just 100 of the world’s companies and corporations contribute as much as 71% of all global emissions (as of 2017). Companies can make-or-break whether their country meets previously agreed global emissions targets. If they were to make changes, they could actively combat climate change, reducing its future implications and effects on the world.

It will be a monumental economic shift to undertake, as many aspects of reducing emissions in business will require an overhaul of existing systems, which are “the norm” and fundamental to how they create profit. A prime example of this is the implementation of ‘planned obsolescence’ in electronic products. This is a methodology in industrial design which creates an artificially-limited life, so it will become obsolete after a certain period, likely shorter than it could have naturally survived. The artificial throttling of mobile phones through software updates is an example of such planned obsolescence. The official reasoning for this, as argued by Apple, is to “preserve older batteries” and CPUs when running new operating system software. This situation has even led to the company being taken to court.

The implementation of ‘planned obsolescence’ leads to artificial sales figures. People need, rather than want, to upgrade their devices to get a satisfactory and expected user experience. This, in turn, leads to more phones being needlessly produced and old phones being needlessly wasted. All of which adds to materials used, global emissions, and global waste. This example, which is one of many, illustrates the need for a shift in the business mindset to combat global emissions. It is an issue that will hit the pockets of shareholders, and business owners alike. For these reasons, climate change is unlikely to be combated promptly.

Through widespread public demand, campaigns, and ‘fighting with your money’ (buying only from companies who are actively fighting climate change, instead of from the “big” or cheapest companies), companies may sooner be pressured into more actively playing their part in combating climate change. Politicians may play a more active role in ensuring companies help combat climate change through the implementation of regulations. Below are some examples that companies could proactively undertake to reduce their carbon emissions.

A shift from ‘planned obsolescence’ to supporting customer ‘right to repair’:

  • Around 80% of the carbon footprint of a new electronic device comes from manufacturing and distribution. Allowing the consumer to repair or upgrade certain aspects of products would reduce carbon emissions and material waste by a considerable margin. This idea almost came to fruition through Project ARA, a modular mobile phone that could have its parts upgraded, based around a standard ‘frame.’ A change in the idea of a product’s lifespan and repairability would hugely benefit consumers and could drastically reduce market demand. However, this could equally directly influence businesses’ share prices and profits negatively: fewer products are bought due to the drop in demand.

Using sustainable energy sources instead of fossil fuels:

Companies need to actively implement and utilise green technologies:

  • Simply investing in green technologies is not as efficient and supportive of the fight against climate change. Investing, by definition, requires putting money into commercial ventures with the expectation of achieving a profit. The invested funds can lead to new and cleaner technologies being produced. Whilst investment is better than doing nothing more is needed. In the short-term, it does little to combat carbon emissions. Arguably, it is a PR stunt deployed to make the company look environmentally friendly. A prime example of a company being proactive in green tech’ implementation is IKEA, who sell their own solar panels for the public to purchase and have rolled out retrofitting stores with green technologies.

Allow and promote more remote-working for employees:

  • This was previously mentioned in a past article in this series. By allowing workers more opportunities to work from home, companies stand to massively reduce their carbon emissions. This is achieved through: less heating and power being required in the workplace, and would also reduce emissions from the commutes of employees. It has even been reported that remote working could yield higher productivity from workers.

Cut down waste involved in business workplaces and production lines:

  • Any waste that ends up in landfill produces methane gas, which is an ignored accelerant of climate change, is roughly 30 times more potent at trapping heat than CO2. Companies should focus on implementing comprehensive recycling schemes and potentially exploring the options of incineration through an Energy from Waste plant (EfW). Companies should also seek to reduce the amount of fossil fuels consumed as a result of the development, transportation and sale of their products.

Actively participate in reforestation, environment protection and environmental restoration to offset emissions that cannot be avoided:

Reduce/condense company travels:

  • Business-related travel (especially flying) contributes significantly to a business’ carbon emissions. Reducing travel by holding meetings via modern and efficient methods (such as online via video conferencing applications) can noticeably reduce carbon emissions. It would also save businesses money by cutting down general costs associated with travel, such as accommodation, fuel and transport costs.

Install modern insulation and energy-efficient lighting in the workplace:

  • Companies should ensure office spaces are well insulated so they require minimal unnecessary heating or air conditioning. Combining this with regularly maintaining heating and cooling technologies for optimum performance, as well as installing energy-efficient lighting, will greatly aid in reducing energy usage. Consequently, this reduces the energy bills of maintaining work premises.

Procure workplace items and equipment from sustainable sources:

  • This could be as simple as providing office spaces with sustainably sourced (or recycled), paper, stationery, and electronic items. In turn, businesses could phase out non-eco-friendly work items such as plastic mechanical pencils.

Reducing packaging and reuse or recycle old packaging:

  • A vast amount of packaging, particularly plastic, found in the workplace and used in packaging is typically single-use. Typical examples include: ready-meal trays, yoghurt pots, salad or crisp bags and toothpaste tubes. Problematically, items that are actually reusable and/or recyclable do not have systems in place whereby consumers can return used packaging to companies directly. There are also times where it is apparent that there is a needless use of packaging materials or overuse of materials. For example, wrapping naturally protected fruit and vegetables in plastic bag wraps.

Reduce wasted energy usage, and get workers involved/provide free education on the topic:

  • Businesses can ensure that their workers switch everything off at the end of the day. Alternatively, they can use energy-saving modes on computers and monitors, as well as unplug items such as: kettles, coffee machines and microwaves. This will not only reduce office energy consumption and emissions, but will also reduce light pollution and reduce energy bills. These sorts of habits may require the education of workers to ensure they are actively encouraged and understand that small changes can make a big difference.

Unfortunately, the suggestions on this list are quite idealistic and unlikely to be fully implemented any time soon. Whilst some companies have schemes including some of the above, more is required. However, with enough public demand and campaigning at: local, national, and international level, changes can be brought about. This could force companies to change their ways. It is a long road ahead to sway a largely money-oriented aspect of society to work for the greater good of the world. Questions arise as to the best method to make the leap from individual and local action to national and international policy change: such a change will involve political debate, a concept that will be looked at in a future piece in this climate change series.

Take a look  at the following websites below for more information: 

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