Thursday, June 21, 2007

Climate Change is A Core Business Consideration

Climate change and business: approches and commitments.

There are several ways in which a business might talk about climate change: as if it is irrelavent, as if it is good for business (e.g wind power company), as if it is a significant business consideration (tactics?) or as if it is a significant long term opportunity/risk (strategy).

Listening to business leaders a few things come to my mind.

Energy efficiency is popular, with current energy prices, and wastefull proceses and practicies this is not suprising as there is money to be made and competative advantage to be had. The potential of a significant price of carbon in the future only adds to this. Consumer views (PR) and staff opinions (retention rates, motivation) play a significant further role in motivating action. All of this is great, but it is not dealing with climate change. These measures are by and large looking at an existing system and asking how can we do this better? That is a good and profitable thing to do with or without the potential devistation of our planet due to climate change that would make sense. It is incremental, it is sluggish, it just aint good enough. This approach could be summed up by the idea of out of town supermarkets installing energy efficient lighting in there car parks. Believe me, some of them actually boast about this! Some of us might question weather having vast tarmac carparks in locations remote from housing is a good planning move and weather the whole concept of out of town development needs to be looked at.

To me it would be fair to say that energy efficiency is key to the way that a business is run. It is not however, key to the direction in which the business is heading, it does not touch on what the business is about.

If business is going to get serious on climate change then the question cannot be only, how do we do what we are going better? Rather it has to be, how can we respond to the opportnities that climate change represents, live up to our responsibility and grow? Transformations may well be in order.

For some businesses this will be easy, for others it is more important because it is difficult. For example, GE and it's Ecomagination project is a superb example of a companny spending vast sums and getting into the forefront of the low carbon technology sector...that is easy and profitable. For others, such as supermarkets, it would be a huge challenge to change siting procedures. Would councils be willing to work with them to arrange cycle paths, foot paths; what about planning regulations near housing. Will people do shopping without a car? Perhaps partnerships with local cycling groups could be developed. How are supply chains shortened? Can with despense with recycled containers and instead use refillable containers? How would advertising work then? Carrying out carbon footprinting of foods it was found that air miles where a pretty poor indicator of carbon, its more difficult than that. A lot of the energy is in packaging, distribution withing the uk, refrigeration, initial farming etc. In fact it's difficult to make supermarket products dramatically low carbon (measurements do often lead to significant progress at first) but i imaginge (no figuers at hand) that some models of retail such as local farmers markets are already dramatically lower in carbon. No centralised distrubution centres, no packaging (perhaps a paper bag), little energy usage keeping the goods, genrally more central locations with public transport a distinct possibility.

Changing from our of town shooping centre to sustainable shopping centre is a big goal, a long term strategic goal that really would indicate climate change as a key business consideration.

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Climate Change Action

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