Sustainability has several definitions, but in the context of climate change, it mainly has one: reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Our Climate Problem
As you probably already know, greenhouse gases are emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere through many channels, energy production being the biggest contributor. This added layer of gases in our atmosphere acts like a greenhouse and traps heat from the sun, similar to how the windows in your car trap heat inside your car on a sunny day.But of course the full effects of climate change don’t stop there.
Imagine our climate today is a pair a dice, and every time you roll two sixes there is an extreme weather event like a storm or fire.What climate change is doing is like changing one side to a six and changing another side to a seven.
There was already a certain a probability that a serious storm or fire could occur without climate change, but with increased greenhouse gasses, there is a higher probability of a storm or fire occurring, meaning they will become more frequent, and on top of that there is a higher magnitude of severity, meaning they can be worse than they have ever been before.
These effects has begun to manifest unmistakably, as we have witnessed throughout 2018, especially in California, directly impacting businesses across the state.
California had its worst year for fires in 2018, including the Camp Fire, which killed 86 people, displaced thousands, and blanketed California in a plume of hazardous smoke, resulting in Sacramento, San Francisco, Oakland, Stockton, and San Jose to be labeled as the five most polluted cities in the world.
Air pollution levels throughout northern California remained at unhealthy levels for weeks, keeping people indoors, and closing universities, schools, and even some major businesses like the Amazon fulfillment center in Sacramento, impacting the operations of many other businesses.
Across the world, the ten worst extreme weather events, which were likely exacerbated by climate change, have racked up about $85 Billion in damages just in 2018, with California’s fires costing more than $10 billion.
Unfortunately, climate scientists predict these effects will only get worse and worse unless something is done about it. The call to action is gradually becoming clearer as we begin to bear the burden of climate change: extreme weather events are increasingly endangering human lives, damaging critical infrastructure, and threatening business operations.
How Businesses Can Address Climate Change
Luckily, we know exactly how to mitigate this overwhelming problem. The severity of climate change in the future depends on what is done today to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
From this perspective, it's really a simple problem to solve, but of course it's not that simple. Until clean technologies have replaced all of our greenhouse-gas emitting processes, the everyday habits of individual people both at home and at work can make a big difference on that person's carbon footprint, and these habits are often hard to change.This is why beyond technology upgrades, it's so important for businesses to implement social sustainability programs internally.
The fact that culture is so difficult to change may be a reason that technology is so heavily relied upon to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It's not as easy to shift culture than it is to install a new appliance, but that doesn't mean we can ignore carbon-intensive business practices and company cultures.
Sarah Schwartz is the lead consultant for Office Climate Solutions. She writes about the intersection of sustainability, business, and the workplace.