Every year at Golder, we take one day to put down our ‘tools’ to talk about health, safety, security and environment. This year, we are focusing on the state of the planet and what we can do as consumers, scientists and engineers to create a more sustainable future.
I’d like to share some of those thoughts with you today, the 5th of June, which is World Environment Day.
A case for change
As we paused from our usual activities to talk about the environment, our people expressed genuine concern that biodiversity loss, changes to our climate and resource mismanagement are affecting every country, every economy and every community. We know that without action these impacts will only grow – and that the time has come for urgent and meaningful change.
The planet is our life support system, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the source of many of our medicines. Nature is an interconnected matrix of species and natural resources that enables us to exist and to thrive. However, nature is declining globally at an unprecedented rate and this, along with climate change, is eroding the foundation of our economies, food security, health and quality of life.
The ugly truth
The latest update on biodiversity from the Intergovernmental Science and Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) indicates one million species around the globe are threatened by extinction: 13% of all marine mammals, 40% of amphibians, 33% of reef-forming corals and 10% of insect species. In the last century, 90% of large fish in the oceans have been depleted. Equally as concerning is that 75% of the globe’s land base has been changed significantly by human actions with major impacts on biodiversity.
Pollution is also contributing to the decline in biodiversity. The equivalent of one rubbish compactor of plastic enters the oceans every minute. An estimated 150 million tonnes of plastic waste and more than 300 million tonnes of sludge, heavy metals and solvents wash into the oceans every year.
There are now 400 dead zones in the ocean where oxygen levels are too low for animals to live – and that adds up to the size of the United Kingdom. This reduces the ability of the sea to support marine life or to feed us, and it depletes our oxygen (50% of which comes from phytoplankton, which is declining).
We are experiencing extended periods of warming of the atmosphere and the oceans. Ten out of the last 13 years have been the hottest on record. January 2019 was the hottest month on record in Australia. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology described it as ‘unprecedented’. At the same time, a new global record for ocean heat was recorded, and the Antarctic sea ice set a new record low.
As the ocean warms, the water expands, the ice melts, and the sea rises. This will cause increased flooding and loss of land for many people and ecosystems. It is estimated that between 100 million and 300 million people will be at increased risk of floods and hurricanes as their protective coastal habitats are lost.
While there are obvious signs that the planet is in trouble, many people don’t feel at risk. We look out of our windows and all seems fine. We still buy and consume at the same rate, maintain our travel habits, and make decisions based on convenience rather than resources. Psychologists suggest that we don’t feel at risk because the most severe impacts of climate change and declining biodiversity seem too far away, in time or geography, for us to feel the urgency. However, scientists tell us we only have 10-12 years to keep global warming to less than 2oC, and even shorter time to save many species from extinction.
It is time to embrace transformational change in the way we live and care for our world.
How can we impact change?
The primary impact Golder has on sustainable development is through the work we do for our clients, and what we can help them achieve. With thousands of clients across the manufacturing, infrastructure, power and mining, oil and gas sectors who each have their own sustainable development goals, our contribution is substantial.
Our employees are invested in this position too. According to our most recent materiality survey, 88% of our people believe it is extremely or quite important that Golder is recognised as a provider of sustainable solutions to clients in the markets we serve, a convergence that delivers tangible benefits on many fronts. 66% of our clients surveyed confirm that their organisation is highly focused on sustainable development practices and initiatives, with 53% reporting that this focus has increased over the past 12 months.
The main internal drivers of this position were community and shareholder expectations, and regulatory frameworks. All respondents strongly agreed or agreed that the quality of their projects was enhanced by including sustainable development measures. Clearly, we have reached a tipping point.
Today, I’m challenging our Golder consultants to continually increase efforts to find more sustainable solutions, going above and beyond what we are already doing in places like Christchurch, Hong Kong, Denmark, United States and Sweden.
If we, as individuals or organisations, can increase global awareness and translate awareness into action, there’s still time to make a difference. Our day of ‘standing down’ at work and today’s World Environment Day are opportunities to build awareness and take steps towards meaningful action.