The biggest transformation in terms of sustainability is expected to come from the industry.
Climate change has been one of mankind’s greatest challenges of the 21st century. In particular, global warming, a gradual increase in planet-wide temperatures, has led to widespread vicious and unpredictable changes in weather patterns.
Historical climate change data indicates that earth is the hottest it has ever been and that the gradual increase in temperatures is the highest ever recorded. Not surprisingly, these changes have been largely attributed to the increasing presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, mostly carbon dioxide (CO₂) and methane.
Disturbing the greenhouse effect
Industrialisation, while mostly positive, has also negatively impacted our world by contributing the most to greenhouse gases. Human actions such as the burning of fossil fuels, farming, deforestation and many more have all been cited as major reasons for global warming challenges.
The cumulative volume of harmful gases in the atmosphere is known to cause disequilibrium in the greenhouse effect, increasing surface temperatures in the process.
Through the greenhouse process, the earth’s surface absorbs solar radiation to warm up and reflects the balance of the sun’s heat back in the form of thermal radiation. Under ideal conditions, both incoming and outgoing radiation should be regulated to a delicate balance, giving the earth its habitable temperatures. However, the increased concentration of CO₂, which absorbs infrared radiation, and other greenhouse gases trap more heat than usual, stopping the excess heat from escaping into the atmosphere. This imbalance leads to what we have come to know as global warming.
Effects of global warming
Unfortunately, we have already started experiencing the effects of climate change. Rising sea levels due to melting ice and thermal expansion, an increase in ocean acidification and extreme weather events, including floods, destructive storms and extreme temperatures, are slowly becoming regular occurrences.
In poorer societies, these challenges are amplified by the limited availability of resources and a lack of mechanisms such as healthcare and insurance necessary in restoring life back to normal.
Changes in rainfall patterns have given rise to challenges in food production, leading to sporadic food crises and hunger in some parts. In Africa in particular, droughts are now a common occurrence, burdening the already stressed governments with the role of providing food to their nations. People living in rural areas rely heavily on subsistence farming, fishing or livestock rearing, while the urban population relies on farmers for their food supply. Therefore any drastic changes in rainfall levels and temperatures can have devastating consequences for entire nations.
We have also witnessed an increase in diseases such as malaria and asthma, which thrive under certain weather conditions. At the same time, the stresses brought on by natural disasters tend to burden healthcare systems worldwide. With food, health and shelter all threatened, it is safe to say that the millennium development goals will be harder to achieve until carbon emissions are under control.
Climate change alters ecosystems and changes the lifecycles of plants and animals, with affected species forced to respond by either migrating, adapting or going extinct. Some of our coral reefs have been bleaching for some time now, while inland plants have been blooming much earlier than usual to compensate for the changes in weather. It is expected that as the earth get warmer, plants and animals that thrive in cold places will no longer have suitable habitats.
Change expected from the industry
It is fair to say that the world is now more aware of the need to conserve the environment than ever before. There have been widespread calls for action from all sectors and a general willingness across the industry to consider more sustainable solutions.
Governments around the world have been at the forefront of these campaigns, with world bodies such as the United Nations leading the discussions on finding solutions to combat climate change. The recent climate change conference highlighted the need for nations to drive towards the global carbon budget, a limit on emissions that we have to maintain if we want to have any chance of containing climate change.
It is no secret that the biggest transformation is expected to come from the industry. With eco-minded consumers expecting environmental stewardship from big corporates and small enterprises alike, the responsibility on any business is to make well-considered selections when it comes to choosing associates and having a thoroughly screened supply chain. A business’ partners are an important reflection of its own principles and values and have an effect on how the business is perceived.
More than ever, sustainable business practices are the key to competitive advantage, with the concept of the triple bottom line gaining momentum. Business success is no longer only defined in monetary terms, but by an organisation’s environmental and social fitness as well.
It is still possible to stop further harm to our environment and reverse some of the damage done previously. Advancement in technology affords most industries the opportunity to rethink processes and investigate more viable alternative solutions. With careful research and planning, there are always better and more sustainable options to be considered.
For any business to enjoy long-term success it will have to meet all three dimensions of performance: financial, social and environmental.
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