A primary reason I came to the Scheller College of Businesses was to widen my knowledge of the interaction between business and society. The Carbon-Conscious Business Speaker Series is one of many reasons that I am able to gain a deeper understanding of the business case for sustainability initiatives. Dr. Kim Cobb, a Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech and a Georgia Power Faculty Scholar, left quite an impression on the audience by bringing to light the benefits business may reap by understanding and addressing climate trends.
Dr. Cobb’s presentation, “Climate Risk and Opportunity in the Southeastern U.S.,” highlights the associated threats and opportunities of climate on business and wider society. The data Dr. Cobb presented unequivocally indicates atmospheric and climatic events are breaking records.
I remember last summer being hot. Hotter than I ever remember. In fact, in 2016, all across the US, temperatures were higher than historical averages. Closer to home, Georgia broke records with an all-time high of 122⁰F. The highest temperature on the record books since record-keeping began in 1895!
While popular movies such as Water world and The Day After tomorrow depict extremes of climate change, situations that won’t likely happen for (at least) a few hundred years, climate change is slowly ongoing around us. And even these small changes can have impact.
Dr. Cobb made it clear to the audience that climatic events today do have measurable impact. The Louisiana Deluge was an unprecedented rain-fall of over 2 feet that fell within a concentrated 72 hours in August 2016. That rainfall triggered severe flooding, displaced thousands of people, damaged or destroyed homes and businesses, and caused millions of dollars of damage.
Unsurprisingly, climate events can occur anywhere and be devastating. As Dr. Cobb mentioned, the consensus among the scientific community is that extreme weather is increasing in severity and frequency. I was pleased to see that she backed up these claims with historic data, including sea level measurements, carbon dioxide concentrations and more. If any climate deniers were in the audience that day, making a case against these scientifically-backed claims would have been tough!
One image clearly depicts an increase in sea level over time. Earth and atmospheric scientists, including Dr. Cobb, believe that by the year 2100 the sea level may rise by 3 feet. In the case of rising sea-levels, the implications effect thousands living on the coast, worldwide and closer to home. Within the Atlantic South East, 900,000 people living among the coast are put at risk from rising sea level.
Dr. Cobb made the point, that now and into the foreseeable future society and businesses will face consequences of climate change. So, I was left wondering, what can businesses do to prepare for the inevitable?
To address this point, Dr. Cobb highlighted the Carbon Reduction Challenge, a semester long class-based project that gives undergraduate students the opportunity to develop engineering proposals for firms facing real business problems.
The 2016 winners proposed a “cool roof” aimed at reducing the building’s cooling cost and carbon footprint. This low-tech solution reflects back more of the sun’s heat than traditional roofs. The Department of Energy has a great description of this technology and its benefits.
This project proved that replacing the roof on a Georgia Tech building would save the building manager $5,100 and 150,000 tons of CO2 per year. Such approaches make clear that the tools we need to mitigate and abate climate related impacts on society are already in our toolbox.
It was a very interesting presentation that touched on climate trends, challenges and opportunities within the context of business and society. Dr. Cobb made it clear that understanding climate-related changes on our planet will allow business and societal problems to be framed in a manner to reduce risk and prosper.
Jason Alcedo is a MBA student at the Scheller College of Business.