Building an Ark may be going a bit far, but you certainly need to make preparations for the chaos climate change may wreck on your business as environmental consultant Clare Taylor explains.
We read a lot about preventing climate change, but what about preparing for it? It is happening, and we are already feeling the effects: research for Defra found that almost a third of UK businesses had been significantly affected by extreme weather between 2007 and 2010.Checking the possible impacts on your business and being prepared makes sense.
Two of the most common and immediate issues are floods and heatwaves. Although you can’t prevent either happening, you can at least reduce the damage by advance planning.
Floods can cause work to be disrupted or even stopped, costing you revenue and orders, repair and replacement costs to property and equipment and increased insurance premiums.
The most common causes are rivers, the sea and overloaded drains and sewers. You can check your risk of flooding from rivers or the sea on the Environment Agency website – just go to http://bit.ly/Jnoj68 and type in your postcode; you can also sign up to receive automatic warnings. Flooding from drains is not predictable, but knowing their locations on and around your property, keeping them clear and monitoring them in heavy rainfall is a sensible precaution. High groundwater levels can also cause floods, especially in low-lying areas with underlying aquifers.
Prepare a flood plan and involve all your staff. What to include depends on your business and the degree of risk, but here are a few things to think about:
- Somewhere to store vital files out of the reach of floodwater
- Raising power points out of danger level, and equipment and stock if possible
- Having a supply of sandbags ready in case of need or, if in a high-risk area, adding flood protection to your building
- Making an agreement with another similar company outside the area to take your work if you can’t do it – and vice versa. Remember that even if your site is OK, flooded roads may prevent deliveries in and out.
- Making sure you are not reliant on any one single supplier for vital supplies – have an alternative in case they are caught by flood
- Look at your IT infrastructure – can any staff who do not need to actually be on the premises work remotely if travel becomes difficult?
Both the Environment Agency and Business Link have advice on creating a plan.
And check your insurance to make sure it gives you the cover you need and includes extreme weather events. If your risk is high, you might want to take out business continuity insurance.
The other form of extreme weather to be prepared for is a heatwave – these, and single hot days, are also expected to increase. Business impacts can include loss of productivity, staff suffering from heat stress, increased costs from cooling and malfunctioning of overheated equipment. They can also cause disruption to transport.
So what can you do? Cooling your building as much as possible is an obvious first step, where possible using measures that don’t increase your energy costs and carbon emissions - such as maximising use of natural ventilation, shading to reduce solar gain, keeping any non-essential equipment turned off so it doesn’t add to the heat and letting the building cool down as much as possible during the night. This could be as simple as security protection for windows so they can be left open (if appropriate and acceptable to your insurer).
Changing work patterns during high temperatures can help – starting earlier and finishing later with a long break in the middle of the day to avoid the hottest time, scheduling travel at cooler times of day and home working for those staff whose roles allow it. For some, it may be possible to temporarily swap offices or work areas around, avoiding the hottest parts of the building.
IT and production equipment are also likely to be affected and need careful monitoring. Off-site back-ups and access can again be helpful. Be prepared with emergency cooling in vital areas such as server rooms, check the maximum operating temperatures for all temperature-sensitive equipment and plan accordingly. Check your cooling system will be sufficient in higher temperatures and upgrade if needed; when purchasing new equipment, factor cooling needs into your decision – reduced requirements can reduce running costs as well.
There are also less immediate issues to think about, perhaps for another time: water scarcity, resource security, pollution controls and longer-term climate change impacts and planning.
The Environment Agency: www.environment-agency.gov.uk
Business Link: www.businesslink.gov.uk
Clare Taylor: www.clare-taylor-consulting.co.uk