Sat, Aug

Judgement is nigh

We are seeing environmental disasters of near Biblical proportions around the globe, which is why change needs to happen. If you don’t make significant efforts to become greener expect to alienate customers and investors - as well as help destroy the planet.

Name the three greatest environmental dangers facing the world today. If you said oil, coal, deforestation or anything like that, you’re wrong. Abigael Kima, a Kenyan environmental campaigner, says the three greatest threats are “selfishness, greed and apathy”. She has a point. Climate change is a problem we have created and therefore we can solve - if we want to.

Kima’s argument is compelling because too often, managing climate change - by, for example, limiting the average rise in global temperatures to between 1.5C and 2C, as agreed in the 2015 Paris accord - is presented as a technical problem. There are indeed a host of technologies that are already making a difference - and others that look very likely to help us in the years ahead - but at present, according to a recent analysis of 6,000 companies by Swiss bank J Safra Sarasin, business emissions are on track to double that level, increasing temperatures by 3.5-4C. That level of emissions is untenable - for the planet, for humanity and for the businesses themselves.

At this point, you’re probably thinking you have read all this before, repeatedly, in the past decade or so, and you almost certainly have. Yet there comes a point when - as the folktale of the boy who cried wolf too often reminds us - the bad stuff actually happens. By last October, the US had already suffered 16 natural disasters that caused damage costing $1bn or more, equalling the previous full-year record reached in 2011 and 2017. The Australian wildfires, which burned an area as large as Scotland and Wales combined, were the most expensive natural disaster in the country’s history, with immediate costs estimated at more than £50bn.

These catastrophes are no longer exceptional, they are increasingly becoming the norm. In 2020 alone, floods devastated India and Indonesia, a cyclone struck Bangladesh, a volcano erupted in the Philippines, earthquakes rocked the Caribbean, China, India, Iran, Philippines, Russia and Turkey, algaes turned the coastal snow in Antarctica green and, just to add to the sense that the world is being beset by Biblical plagues, great swarms of locusts filled the skies in parts of Asia, East Africa, India and the Middle East.

The scale of the damage, although overshadowed by the Covid-19 pandemic, is finally convincing governments, investors and large companies that there is no such thing as business as usual. In the UK, perhaps driven by a need to deflect attention from its mishandling of the Covid crisis, the government has announced ambitious new environmental goals, yet the most significant driver of change is probably the announcement in November 2020 by the chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, that from 2025, disclosure of climate threats will be mandatory for publicly listed companies and large private firms. That will force managers to go beyond such measures as quantifying current carbon emissions and share data that will enable investors to assess the risks climate change poses for a business and its business model and decide whether the company has a strategy to cope with what could be existential threats.

"what gets measured also gets judged"

What gets measured gets managed, as the old cliché has it, but what gets measured also gets judged - by environmental groups, consumers, regulators and investors. It is no exaggeration to say that, by the end of this decade, companies that have not acted decisively to make their business greener could alienate consumers, customers and investors.

Every digital or wide-format printer providing a service to a large business needs to start thinking about how they can reduce their carbon footprint - and keep reducing it. Every aspect of the operation will come under scrutiny. Buying electric vehicles is an easy win, switching to more recyclable materials and consumables is already achievable, but what about the emissions from your offices or premises? Do you, for example, recycle heat? If you’re building new premises could you use hempcrete (made from hemp and lime) instead of concrete, which is a huge driver of global warming? Just one thought.

You might feel, understandably, that you have more than enough on your plate at the moment, but you cannot afford to ignore these issues for too much longer. As the wide-format sector’s customers come under pressure to measure and reduce their environmental impact, they are going to pass that pressure on to all of their suppliers. And being able to demonstrate that you are doing your utmost won’t be a box-ticking exercise, it will be table stakes.

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