How can small and medium businesses prepare against climate change?

Burst banks of River Severn amid flooding in Worcester

Photo: Worcester bridge by Russell Trow

Climate change has an impact on businesses. Flooding, hot summers, droughts and severe storms and winds can damage business premises and disrupt suppliers and customers.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Business directly impacted by the 2007 floods took an average of 26 weeks to return to normal operating capacity. Some small businesses can take up to two years to recover from a flood – and some do not survive.
  • Rail commuters in Birmingham endured extensive delays on 17 July 2006 as the extreme heat caused railway lines to buckle. Many services from New Street Station in Birmingham had to be cancelled and some passengers had to wait more than two hours.
  • The flooding in July 2007 was caused by a month’s rainfall in 1–2 hours and caused interruptions to electricity and water supplies, and significant disruption to road and rail networks.
  • After the flooding in June and July 2007, insurers received 165,000 claims in the UK, estimated to total £3bn in insured damages. Economic and social costs were far higher, as not all costs to businesses can be insured.

The West Midlands Climate Change Adaptation Partnership knows that it is crucial that businesses understand the consequences of climate change. This is why they released a practical guide explaining how small and medium businesses in the West Midlands can save and make money from climate change (pdf, 357kb).

Planning and being prepared are the way forward as opposed to just reacting whenever disaster hits. This will allow businesses to save money in the long term, continue operations in spite of the weather and identify potential business opportunities.

The guide provides a series of questions that business should consider around:

  • Insurance
  • Premises
  • People
  • Utilities
  • Information technology and security of data
  • Suppliers, logistics and delivery and products
  • Processes, stock and raw materials
  • Agricultural and horticultural rural business
  • Emergency contacts and important documents

The guide also provides examples of opportunities for small businesses, useful tools and contact details of regional support available.

Photo credit: Worcester bridge by Russell Trow.

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What’s your vision of a low carbon future?

Most people now agree that the future economy will need to be a low carbon one. But what would a low carbon economy look like? And how should the West Midlands transform its economy to get there?

If you have a view about these questions, we would like to hear from you.

Copies of our book called West Midlands: Fit for the Future?In 2009 the Observatory published a book called West Midlands: Fit for the Future? The aim of the book was to start a debate about the future of the West Midlands economy as it emerges from the recent recession.

We’re now looking to build upon one of the themes that emerged from the original book: opportunities for the West Midlands in a low carbon future.

In exploring the subject we’re inviting contributions from people with a variety of different perspectives on the issue. Whilst we’ve contacted some people directly, we’re also interested in receiving contributions from anyone who feels they have something interesting to say.

Our aim is to stimulate debate, promote discussion and influence policy on the future growth of the low carbon agenda in the West Midlands.

If you would like to contribute to our report, we’re looking for papers of no more than 2,500 words (and we welcome alternative ways of getting your ideas across), reflecting your own ideas in response to this question:

In your view, what would a successful low carbon economy look like and how should the West Midlands transform its economy to meet that vision?

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Observatory low carbon team update: June 2010

Black and white illustration representing an environmently friendly economyOpportunities for businesses in the low carbon economy have been the main focus of the team in recent weeks. We’ve also been producing our annual raft of monitoring work looking at all aspects of sustainable development and climate change.

Low carbon economy

Back in March, we published our report into the opportunites for growth into a low carbon economy in the West Midlands.

The research suggested that, in the West Midlands, sectors with prospects for growth into the low carbon economy include automotive & transport equipment, construction and public services amongst others.

The report highlights a number of potential low carbon opportunities. The manufacture of products for low carbon buildings is one, through providing insulation products, technical tiles and ceramics, and prefabricated building elements for construction.

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John Polychronakis on opportunities in the low carbon economy for the City Region

On Monday 17th May 2010 the Observatory published a series of reports analysing the opportunities for growth into the low carbon economy in the West Midlands City Region. Each of the local authorities within the City Region had an individual profile produced for them.

John Polychronakis, Chief Executive of Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, gives his reaction to the report and discusses how it will help Dudley MBC develop their local economic assessment:

Watch video on viddler.com | Transcript

How Sustainability West Midlands are using low carbon economy research

Here’s a short video with Dr Simon Slater, Executive Director at Sustainability West Midlands.

Local authority and business leaders in the West Midlands were asking Simon ‘what are the risks and what are the opportunities in the low carbon economy?’

In this video, Simon discusses how working with the Observatory to research and evidence regional growth into a low carbon economy is helping his organisation and partners in the region answer such questions.

(Watch the video on Viddler.com)

Low carbon economy and sustainability – the same thing?

Last week I attended the annual SCPnet conference in the West Midlands. SCPnet stands for Sustainable Consumption and Production network and is a partnership network dedicated to promoting the philosophy of sustainable consumption and production (SCP) at a sub-national level.

I must say that I found the conference very interesting and insightful and the quality of the speakers was outstanding. This conference gave me a great opportunity to reflect on what is sustainable consumption and production, its importance, and how it links to the low carbon work we are doing at the Observatory.

Sustainable consumption and production

‘Securing the Future’, the UK Government sustainable development strategy, states:

‘Increasing prosperity, in the UK and across the world, has allowed many people to enjoy the benefits of goods and services which were once available to just a few. Nevertheless, the environmental impacts from our consumption and production patterns remain severe, and inefficient use of resources is a drag on the UK’s economy and business. We need a major shift to deliver new products and services with lower environmental impacts across their life cycle, while at the same time boosting competitiveness. And we need to build on people’s growing awareness of social and environmental concerns, and the importance of their roles as citizens and consumers.’ (DEFRA (2005) Securing the Future, p.43)

An alternative definition by Constanza (2000) says:

‘Probably the most challenging task facing humanity today is the creation of a shared vision of a sustainable and desirable society, one that can provide permanent prosperity within the biophysical constraints of the real world in a way that is fair and equitable to all of humanity, to other species, and to future generations. This vision does not now exist, although the seeds are there.’

Sustainability and the low carbon economy

So going back to the question in the title, are sustainability and low carbon the same thing? I believe the answer is no.

The West Midlands Regional Observatory recently published the research The Low Carbon Economy in the West Midlands. The research highlights that a low carbon economy is one where businesses deliver products and services while reducing their level of carbon emissions.

In this sense, the low carbon economy is just one element (an import one) of sustainability. In the same way that the environment is much more than only carbon emissions, sustainability is much more than just environmental issues.

Climate change, carbon emissions, environment impacts, social issues, waste, recycling, population growth, lifestyles, supply chain, energy, environment quality and deprivation are just a few examples of topics that have an impact on sustainability.

Also, businesses, government, people and the third sector must all work together. Sustainability is not something it can be delivered by only a few people in isolation.

In 2006 the report I will if you will presented the ‘triangle of change,’ a framework where people, business and government interact in a coordinated effort to move towards a more sustainable society.

If you want to know more about sustainable consumption and production, here are some websites that can help:

We are planning to add more posts about the 2010 SCPnet Conference soon. If you’re interested keep an eye on this blog.

Breaking into the Low Carbon Economyhttps://wmro.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/higher-level-skills-can-help-boost-the-region%e2%80%99s-economic-recovery/

Car breakers and recyclers, along with the construction industry, could benefit significantly from existing and future low carbon legislation according to research from the West Midlands Regional Observatory.

The low carbon agenda is gaining pace as the West Midlands seeks a way out of recession, because of the range of opportunities that it provides.

In a low carbon economy businesses deliver products and services, while reducing their level of carbon emissions. We tend to link the low carbon economy with high-tech industry and high levels of innovation, technology and investment. However, the Observatory’s research has found that the opportunities stretch well beyond hydrogen cells, solar panels, electric cars and science parks. There are a number of opportunities for the rest of the region’s economy.

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