What global environmental risks mean to 10 sectors

“The current economic system, built on the idea of perpetual growth, sits uneasily within an ecological system that is bound by biophysical limits.” So states the fifth Global Environment Outlook, published by the United Nations Environment Program in 2012.

Renowned economist Kenneth Boulding reflected the same sentiment more pointedly many years ago when he said, “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.”

Infinite growth is the operating principle, reinforced by our current economic and political systems, on which many of the world’s business leaders, policy makers and investors make decisions every day. As a result, the gap between our current burn rate and what the planet’s environmental systems can support on a sustained basis continues to grow. This gap represents a significant risk – and an opportunity – for the business community.

This is the context of a collaboration between UNEP and SustainAbility, along with Green Light Group: a just-released report titled GEO-5 for Business. It uses GEO-5, a 500+ page compilation of environmental data, policy options and scenarios as its foundation. GEO-5 for Business serves as a translation and primer written specifically for business leaders. While much analysis has been conducted on the impacts of business on the environment, this report looks in the other direction – at the impacts of environmental trends on business.

GEO-5 for Business provides a clear picture of trends and impacts that should compel business leaders to take action. It synthesizes a large amount of research (with 389 citations in the 41-page report) and provides a comprehensive view of what individual and collective environmental trends mean to 10 specific business sectors.

The sectors assessed are: Building/Construction, Chemicals, Electric Power, Extractives, Finance, Food/Beverage, Healthcare, Information/Communication Technology, Tourism and Transportation. The report identifies impacts across the value chain, from raw material procurement to product end-of-life, and assesses reputation and public policy implications as well.

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