Using data collected from satellites in 1970 and 1997, scientists from the Physics Department at Imperial College, London, provided direct observational evidence in March 2001 that greenhouse gasses, such as methane and carbon dioxide, were accumulating in our atmosphere and changing weather patterns.
Climate modellers used the data to predict what the long-term effects of such changes might be, and this is where the argument got bogged down. Instead of taking measures to reduce carbon emissions and develop alternative power sources, business and governments around the world quibbled about the value of climate modelling, and fussed over the detail.
The big picture is simple. More carbon in the atmosphere means more heat is trapped in the lower atmosphere; more heat leads to fewer icebergs; melting icebergs cause higher ocean levels and make the water colder, precipitating radical changes to ocean currents, wind temperatures and speeds. Ultimately, the climate on which we have based our settlement patterns and agriculture will become less predictable, some parts colder, others wetter, some hotter and dryer.
For over a decade, and until the evidence became overwhelming, climate change naysayers argued that environmentally sustainable business practices would spell economic disaster.
However, according to managing director of environmental consultancy Enviro Action, Jean Cannon, the notion that environmental business practices are somehow detrimental to growth or economic efficiency is absurd and entirely baseless.
Since 1999 Cannon has been guiding small and medium businesses through a purpose-built environmental management system designed to prepare them to comply with ISO 14001, the environmental standard for business processes.
"Over 92 per cent of my customers find that when they have the certification completed it actually saves them money, and makes them run more efficiently," Cannon said. "It also has other less tangible benefits, like building a happier workforce, because people prefer to work for a company that is recognised as being responsible, and customers prefer to trade with companies that have sustainable business practices."
Oddly enough, this is a relationship well recognised by some of the world's most successful companies. IBM A/NZ program manager for optimising IT, Jamie Simon, said the efficiencies and kudos arising from environmentally friendly work practices had been recognised within Big Blue for more than three decades.
IBM first included carbon emissions as part of its corporate reporting in 1974, and began adopting technologies and techniques to keep these emissions to a minimum. Far from tapering off over time, the company has expanded its environmental business practices as they were repeatedly found to be of benefit to the bottom line as well as the environment. "We realised there was the double benefit of creating more streamlined processes, as we would be saving money in operating costs, and also innovating in terms of the way people worked within IBM," Simon said.
More recently, IBM has continued to build on its environmental policies through Innovation Jams, which operate a bit like online brainstorm sessions, aimed at cutting carbon emissions and reducing the company's impact on the environment. IBM is currently looking at a substantial expansion of flexible working arrangements, supply chain innovation, and remote conferencing to reduce the emissions associated with commuting and business travel.
"It's important as well that we are putting resources behind it," Simon said. "This year the CEO has set aside $700 million to act on environmental suggestions stemming from the Innovation Jam," Simon said. "Environmental business practices are often focused on increasing your capital expenditure slightly in order to reduce you operational expenditure, so they make sense in the long term."