Future generations depend on how we live today
Our growing global population, the rapidly emerging middle class in countries such as India and China, and the increasing demand for food, energy and goods are straining our natural resources. 75% of the world’s population live in countries where consumption levels are outpacing environmental renewal rates. 300% more freight traffic is expected over the next 20 years; and if the Chinese start consuming energy like the Americans, the amount of oil required would increase by 106%. All of these factors are adding to the build-up of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere. We are quite simply living beyond the means of the human-carrying capacity of this planet.
The greenhouse effect and greenhouse gases
The earth’s atmosphere is a relatively thin blanket of air made up of a mixture of gases. Nitrogen and oxygen make up 99% of this air, while the other 1% is composed of atmospheric greenhouse gases (such as CO2, methane and other gases). The greenhouse effect is a process in which thermal radiation from the earth’s surface is absorbed by these greenhouses gases. As a result, the temperature there is higher than it would be if direct heating by solar radiation were the only warming mechanism. The natural process between the sun, the atmosphere and the earth is called the ‘greenhouse effect’, and it’s this natural process - when in balance - that sustains life on earth. An excess of greenhouse gases will heat up the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.
Addressing our carbon footprint
Years of industrialization has lead to too much CO2 being released into the atmosphere.
In 1900, CO2 emissions globally were around 2 Billion tons; by 2004 these emissions had risen annually to more than 27 Billion tons. Our carbon footprint - the total amount of greenhouse gases that each of us produces, based on what we eat, drink, manufacture and purchase – has become way too big. Today, global warming is progressing at an alarming rate. Action must be taken now to tackle global warming, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and make lifestyle choices that will provide a sustainable environment for current and future generations.
Towards a carbon-neutral lifestyle
Maintaining a sustainable environment means living within the limits of what our environment can provide. To do this we have to develop less carbon-hungry technology and transport systems. We also have to adapt to more carbon neutral lifestyles by monitoring the amount of fossil fuel used in our goods and services. Measuring and highlighting our carbon footprint on products and food is one of the widely used indicators that we can use to determine how much greenhouse gases are being produced. The picture becomes more accurate when factors like acidification, ozone depletion, energy consumption, soil and water pollution are monitored.
Environmental management through Life Cycle Assessment
A more quantifiable method of measuring the sustainability of a product is through Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). Many of today's companies who are focused on environmental management use complete LCA methods to evaluate the sustainability of their products. A complete LCA provides environmental impact data not only on materials but also on product manufacturing, transportation, service life and end–of–life options (recycling, disposal, energy recovery). It also provides a thorough evaluation of the benefits of a product and makes comparisons with alternatives.
Corporate social responsibility
The economical performance of companies has always been of interest to society, but what has become increasingly interesting is how they perform environmentally and socially. With this in mind, many companies regularly provide information on their performance in the form of a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report. By embracing the CSR concept, these companies can show how sustainable and competitive they have become. A socially responsible company or organization will conduct its business correctly and adhere to legal guidelines, as well as look out for the welfare of its employees, the community, and society at large. Such companies will thrive, because 'sustainable' products are in high demand. And the environment benefits as well.