Environmental Degradation: Our Failing Earth

By Ghadar, Fariborz | Industrial Management, May/June 2006 | Go to article overview

Environmental Degradation: Our Failing Earth


Ghadar, Fariborz, Industrial Management


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Changes in our natural environment have a profound impact, yet as elements of business planning, they have been largely overlooked. Gradual developments easily go unnoticed, but there is still time to act on negative trends, turning them to business advantages while healing our planet for everyone's benefit.

Much like the earth's tectonic plates, global trends are shifting the ground beneath our feet and transforming our industrial and societal topography. Every business, regardless of its size or industry, must view day-to-day operations in light of these large-scale developments.

Shifts in our natural environment have proven to be one of the most often overlooked global tectonics affecting the decision-making processes of business leaders. Gradual developments can go unnoticed, but we have both the ability and the responsibility to foresee, to understand, and to act as these trends unfold.

Throughout human history, our relationship with the environment has been a dichotomous one. We have tried either to control it in an attempt to decrease the risks caused by its natural processes or else we have lived in a primitive state in equanimity with nature. Instead of viewing our environment as a hostile force that needs to be tamed or something we must just succumb to, we now have the opportunity to understand its profound influence and to bring about improved balance.

This new way of seeing the environment can not only lead to a healthier planet, but it can also provide great opportunity and competitive advantage for business.

With the awareness that environmental degradation was a key global issue, the United Nations organized the Conference on the Human Environment in 1972 in Stockholm, Sweden. The result of the conference was the production of a declaration of 26 principles and an action plan of 109 recommendations.

This conference can be seen as the starting point for a new way for business to interact with the environment. But to begin this process, a thorough understanding of environmental degradation and how it affects all of us is required.

Many national and international laws and agreements on environmental safety have been passed since the Stockholm conference. From these laws and agreements, eight interrelated components of the environment that prove most problematic for businesses and humankind can be identified: fresh water, coastal and marine areas, atmosphere, land, forest, biodiversity, urban areas, and natural disasters.

Sustainable development requires the interrelationship of business goals with environmental considerations. It means that we have to work to keep the ecological system balanced for purposes of increasing land quality, cleaning up the atmosphere, maintaining biological diversity, stopping deforestation, and reducing the number of natural disasters.

The degradation of one of these eight environmental elements causes degradation of others, ultimately creating a global ripple effect. Even though each corner of the planet is unique, any environmental loss has a global impact. A better understanding of environmental degradation can be reached by exploring each of these components.

Fresh water

Water is the lifeblood of the planet, delivering necessary ingredients for life. The presence of water is the primary indicator of life - even possible life on Mars is discussed in terms of its relation to the presence of water on the planet's surface. Earth has total water resources of about 1.4 billion square kilometers, of which 2.5 percent (35 million square kilometers), is fresh water. But less than 1 percent of all fresh water is available for use.

The uneven distribution of freshwater resources on the planet is the basis of water stress. Yet water use rates will continue to increase. By the year 2025, 2.8 billion people will live in water-stress conditions, and by 2050 that number will increase to 4 billion people - 40 percent of the global population. …

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