From climate change and environmental degradation to poverty and inequality, our businesses, our communities, and even our planet face serious and accelerating threats to sustainability. Our very survival may hang in the balance.
We all know friends, family and fellow businesses who’ve been impacted by extreme weather events. Climate change impacts including mega-drought, extreme rainfall, land and marine heatwaves and glacier melt are affecting the Latin America and Caribbean region, from the Amazon to the Andes and from Pacific and Atlantic Ocean waters to the snowy depths of Patagonia. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) State of the Climate in Latin America and the Caribbean 2021 highlighted the far-reaching repercussions for ecosystems, food and water security, human health, and poverty. The report was released during a WMO Regional Technical Conference for South American countries organized by the WMO in Cartagena, Colombia, on July 22, 2022.
Deforestation rates were the highest since 2009 doubling in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. 22% more forest was lost in 2021 compared to 2020. Andean glaciers have lost more than 30 percent of their area in less than 50 years. The Central Chile Mega drought continued in 2021, at 13 years to date, making this the longest drought in this region at least 1,000 years.
“Worsening climate change and the compounding effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have not only impacted the biodiversity of the region, but have also stalled decades of progress against poverty, food insecurity and reduction of inequality in the region,” said Dr. Mario Cimoli of Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
Extreme weather events led to 2.1 million people in the Americas being displaced last year, according to a report released by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). By the end of 2022, the people displaced by extreme weather events globally doubled compared to 2021 totaling 31.8 million. The Americas was the region that saw the fourth most displacements by climate change in the past decade. Last year, Brazil was the country in the region with the most disaster-related displacements, followed by the United States, Colombia, Haiti, and Cuba.
The rise in weather and climate extremes has led to some irreversible impacts as natural and human systems are pushed beyond their ability to adapt. Secretary General Antonio Guterres addressed the recent Climate Implementation Summit at COP 27 with dire warnings that the clock was ticking with the planet fast approaching tipping points that can make “climate chaos” irreversible. The UN chief said that “we are on the highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”
What is the role of our industry in solving the climate crisis and achieving sustainable development?
It’s no secret, there is a rising demand for AV solutions. Whether it be corporate, government, education or healthcare, solutions for digital signage, presentation and UC conferencing are in higher demand than ever before. The rapid pace of tech development has meant that products are being replaced in increasingly shorter cycles. This has led both directly and indirectly to serious environmental consequences.
There is no unilateral process, system or policy in the industry dealing with where the equipment goes at the end of its life cycle. What is the effect on the environment as the components pile up somewhere in landfills or dumps? What happens to the people who pick through old gear looking for sellable parts to eke out a subsistence income? Are there alternative materials that could be used in manufacturing AV equipment that are eco-friendly and easily recycled? Who is going to motor these changes?
The Center for Sustainable Enterprises conducted a study in 2020 entitled ‘Sustainability in the Supply Chain’. This study found that “in 2019 alone, over 50 million tons of e-waste, including displays, cables, power supplies and other AV equipment, were generated in North America and Europe. This number has increased 21% over the last 5 years.”
This growing problem is intensified by planned obsolescence. Companies aren’t creating products that are intended to last forever. Instead, they’re engineered to break down over time and eventually fail. They aren’t easily repaired and it’s often easier to just replace them. The products are intentionally engineered this way to generate more revenue.
In 2019, less than 20% of used electronics were formally recycled. Not only is this waste bad for the environment, but it’s also dangerous to the communities where it’s disposed of. According to a 2019 UN report, E-waste can contain harmful materials such as mercury, lead, and cadmium. This contaminates the soil, water and damages the health of the local people. Consumers aren’t given options to properly dispose of their devices.
There are other ways the AV industry impacts the sustainability of our planet and people. The AV industry is highly dependent on shipping and transport. We purchase components and equipment that are produced all over the country and all around the world. The transportation industry accounts for 25% of the world’s energy consumption with the U.S. consuming more energy than any other country.
Like most technology sectors, the AV industry has a large and growing impact on sustainability problems. Regrettably we contribute to these problems in several ways. At the same time, we are well-positioned to make substantial progress in responsible waste management, carbon emission reduction, and reduced energy usage.
A 2021 Pew Research study revealed that most Americans believe the climate crisis should be prioritized. A 63% majority say stricter environmental regulations are worth the cost.
There is increasing evidence that the AV and low voltage industry customers and employees want to be associated with businesses focused on sustainability. According to the Wall Street Journal, in just the next decade, there will be upwards of $12 trillion in business opportunities for companies that align themselves with sustainable development.
Industry members have the ability to generate funding, win business, attract employees, and lead our communities. This all depends on people like us acting now. We CAN make a difference here within our own industry.