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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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.

West Midlands at the heart of European Climate Change Programme

EIT knowledge and innovation communityBusinesses, academics and public agencies in the West Midlands gathered this week to find out how they can benefit from a new €120 million Europe-wide climate change programme.

Climate – Knowledge Innovation Communities (KIC) is a unique programme, from the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, which brings together five of Europe’s top universities (including Imperial College and ETH Zurich), 10 leading companies (including CISCO and Shell), and six major European regions including the West Midlands.

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Institution of Civil Engineers launches State of the Nation report

Cover of State of the Nation reportThe Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) today launched its latest State of the Nation report and this year’s theme is ‘Low Carbon Infrastructure’. This report provides an interesting take on the low carbon debate coming from within the engineering industry.

As Paul Jowitt, ICE’s President says in his foreword:

“Many of the largest sources of carbon emissions are currently associated with the construction, operation, maintenance and use of infrastructure in particular in the energy, transport, water and waste sectors. Our inquiry suggests that many of the technologies and practices we need to create significant change in these sectors already exist, but their delivery is constrained by unfavourable investment and delivery conditions.”

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State of the Region dialogue on climate change published

Illustration: solar panel, wind farm, tractor, farming, person saying 'walk the talk'We’ve published the State of the Region dialogue Challenge or opportunity? How to plan for climate change (pdf, 1.3mb).

This report aims to help decision makers understand how climate change will impact on their areas and also give practical ways of adapting to, and taking advantage of, the opportunities and challenges presented by climate change.

The report covers six policy themes:

  • Built environment
  • Natural resources (water, land use and food)
  • Transport
  • Health
  • Energy and waste
  • Business, skills and education

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Challenge or opportunity? How to plan for climate change

Blog ACtion Day 2009 on Climate ChangeToday is Blog Action Day 2009, when more than 8,000 blogs from 146 countries are discussing issues around climate change.

Here’s our contribution to this global initiative.

In a few weeks’ time, we’ll publish the findings from our state of the region dialogue on climate change titled Challenge or Opportunity? How to plan for climate change.

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Blog Action Day ’09 Climate Change

Blog ACtion Day 2009 on Climate Change15th October is Blog Action Day 2009, an annual event when bloggers around the world post about a common issue on the same day.

The aim is to raise awareness and encourage discussion around a global issue.

This year’s topic is climate change.

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