In this news article, we speak with Dr Matt Fishwick, one of our resident lifecycle assessment practitioners. In other words, Matt makes sure that everything we measure is in line with the latest scientific thinking.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I’ve worked in sustainability for the last 15 years, with a focus on life cycle assessment of products in a range of sectors, including chemicals, construction products and packaging. I really enjoy helping businesses – whether start-ups or large multi-nationals – understand where environmental impact lies within their product’s lifecycle, and ultimately helping to reduce this impact as much as possible. Prior to working in consulting my education was also in sustainability, with a broad environmental science BSc, more focused master’s degrees in ecotoxicology and green chemistry and a PhD project that looked at the chemistry of micronutrients used by carbon-sequestering algae in our oceans.
From a scientific perspective, what does climate change mean for the world, and how worried are you?
It is now clear that climate change is not something that might happen at some point in the future, it is already happening, and we are seeing the negative consequences of it in the news almost every day e.g. heat waves, flooding, wild fires, storms. Global temperatures are already 1.1oC higher than pre-industrial times, and the latest IPCC report predicts that it will likely reach 1.5oC by 2040, the threshold above which the most serious effects of climate change will be felt. It may still be possible to avoid going over the 1.5oC threshold, but we need to act now. The Covid-19 vaccine effort has shown what we can do if we are determined enough, so I’m optimistic that we can at least slow down some of the most serious effects of climate change but think there will inevitably be some adaptation to another “new normal” required.
And how does that impact most businesses?
Clearly some business will be more impacted by the effects of climate change than others such as agriculture, insurance and landowners. However, all business will be impacted to some degree. In terms of the impacts of dealing with climate change, this will be across the board. It is likely that measurement and reduction of carbon will be mandated by law for many businesses in many countries (and already is for some) and those not legally required to reduce will be compelled to do so by customers, investors, or peers.
How have you seen businesses react to the climate change warnings coming from the scientific community in the last decade or so?
I’ve worked across the board in terms of sectors, with small and large business, and it is heartening to see some of the amazing work that has been done in reaction to climate change warnings. The standout sector for me has to be construction, even 15 years ago the architects, major developers and main contractors were talking about carbon is a way that would impress many businesses today! Some sectors are less far ahead and there is a large amount of variability from business to business, some having done nothing or only token gestures, so there is a long way to go overall.
With COP26 happening, how do you think businesses will have to change in the next decade?
The science tells us that we need to slash our absolute emissions in half in the next decade. To show how difficult this might be, despite all the fantastic efforts by business in the last decade, global emissions have actually increased, as they have done every single decade since the industrial revolution. This isn’t going to be about switching lights off and stopping using plastic straws, carbon reduction must be embedded at the very heart of every business decision. There are lots of really good examples of companies that already adopt this approach, but lots more needs to be done by most companies and some will need to change completely. In all honestly, I think there will be some business that simply won’t survive if they don’t react to what the world is telling them. I would compare them to Blockbuster, who never thought that streaming would take off!
If you had to give one bit of advice to a business looking to pioneer sustainability, what would it be?
Identify and focus on the most important areas and target reduction here. Don’t waste time and money tinkering around the edges, even if this is what customers think they want. Back to the plastic straws distraction!