Every time I click on a news report, I see the ongoing saga of forest fires in the Amazon. This is not a new phenomenon, as July and August are the beginning of the dry season. However, it is the sheer volume, cause and the ultimate effect of the fires that are alarming. The numbers are hard to wrap your head around. There have been more than 70,000 fires reported in the rainforest since the beginning of the year, an increase of more than 85% year over ear according to a Washington Post report.
The Amazon spans eight countries, covers roughly 40 percent of South America, and is often referred to as “the planet’s lungs,” as it produces 20 percent of the Earth’s oxygen. The devastation threatening wildlife, natural resources and our oxygen supply will be felt around the world.
The World Meteorological Organization tweeted about the smoke that has spread across Brazil stating, “Fires release pollutants, including particulate matter & toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and non-methane organic compounds into the atmosphere.” So, in a perverse chain of events, the fires are both generating large amounts of carbon dioxide, while at the same time destroying millions of trees that would be taking in the carbon dioxide and protecting the environment. It’s a double-whammy.
The added carbon dioxide will then also trap heat within our atmosphere due to the greenhouse effect and could change the atmospheric circulation that causes the melting of large ice sheets and many other catastrophic effects of climate change.
It gets worse. It’s also been estimated that the Amazon generates about half of its own rainfall. Less rain means dryer plants, which are more susceptible to causing even more fires. A dangerous cycle.
Beyond the human and ecological impact, there are huge consequences for business too.
- Trade deals in doubt : The European Union is currently negotiating a trade deal with several Latin American companies such as Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, negative reports from the Amazon could cause these deals to stall.
- Sustainability initiatives: 200+ businesses that operate in Brazil have agreed to aggressive targets to reduce emissions. The fires are causing carbon emissions to go through the roof, and with it the ability to meet these goals.
- Supply Risk - Many companies’ supply chains touch Brazilian products and materials. Brazil ranks second in the world for soy and beef production. This could result in shortages and increased prices. Alternate sourcing strategies should be considered to minimize risk.
- Pharmaceutical supply: It is estimated that 25 percent of the pharmaceutical drugs sold in the U.S. are derived from 40 Amazon plants. These are all at risk.
What can we do?
Obviously, it is time to act on a personal, political and professional level.
We can follow Leonardo DiCaprio’s lead and donate to charitable causes such as The Rainforest Action Network, Rainforest Trust, Amazon Watch or the Rainforest Alliance. In Leonardo’s case, the charity Earth Alliance (which he co-launched) pledged $5 million “to focus critical resources for indigenous communities and other local partners working to protect the life-sustaining biodiversity of the Amazon against the surge of fires currently burning across the region.”
We can push governments to do more. At the recent summit in France, the G-7 nations committed to provide at least 20 million euros ($22 million) in emergency funding to help with efforts to prevent fires in the Amazon. This is only the start.
Many companies already have sustainability initiatives and goals. There are already over 700 companies who produces Rainforest Alliance Certified products, who are recognized for environmental, social and economic sustainability. But to be truly sustainable we need to designproducts that consider the worlds shrinking supply of natural resources, and growing population. Ensure that the materials and packaging we use is ethically sourced and environmentally friendly. And drive a circular economy that minimizes waste, reuses by products and reduces the carbon footprint across manufacturing and logistics processes.
We must do something. Your business – and the planet’s – sustainability may end up depending on it.
To learn more on how to drive sustainable business processes, download the IDC report “Leveraging your intelligent digital supply chain."