These 3 Companies Are Handling Climate-Related Health Risks

Published on:
by Eric Burdon
Image of ecologist taking water sample from river with test tube

One of the important determinants for ESG reporting requirements is that companies need to report on how climate change will affect their daily business operations. On top of their own contributions, this specific reporting standard brings attention to the fact that while it’s important to keep in mind the rising temperature, other concerns are equally crucial.

With more extreme weather and temperatures, countries and communities all over the world are faced with other severe health issues. Droughts due to intense heat in certain areas leads to water scarcity or a reliance on dirty water, for example.

Public Health

There are several examples of companies out there working to make a difference in these issues. Not only do these companies have overarching ESG reports, but their environmental goals also cover specific climate-related health risks. By allocating resources to support the development of initiatives that firmly draw a line between climate change and our personal health, businesses can reveal aspects of the climate crisis that, if we pay attention to them and put learnings into practice, may help us all cope with the unfolding events we are witnessing. 

In this sense, businesses, as highly visible elements of society, play a key role in public health matters and climate-related wellness issues. Here are three that are making transparent progress.

Colgate On Water

Not only is water essential to Colgate Palmolive’s business operations, but it also plays a critical role in human life and a wide variety of products and services. Combined with warming temperatures from climate change, water can run dry and have widespread effects on residents, the country, and the world.

On a local level, it prevents people from drinking or washing. On a country and global scale, this can affect crops to feed residents as well as a country’s ability to export goods. These alone can create ripple effects that are felt all across the world. Grocery stores running into inventory or supply chain issues, for example.

Each business should be conscious of its water usage, and for Colgate, water is a crucial part of making toothpaste and other personal care products. Thankfully, since 2002, they have been working to reduce the amount of water used in the production of their products. However, between 2020 and 2025, they are focusing on reducing water usage further and making other efforts to conserve water.

They outline a brief overview of their 2025 Sustainability Report on their website, which outlines the company’s plans for 2025. Goals include:

  • Achieving Net Zero Water (defined by USGBC LEED Zero Water) at manufacturing sites in water-stressed areas.

  • Reducing water intensity in manufacturing by 25%.

  • Promoting water conservation awareness through their Save Water messaging.

SC Johnson On Insect-Borne Diseases

On top of diseases that stem from water shortages, rising temperatures, and changing patterns, the rain also increases the spread of other diseases. Notably, malaria, dengue, West Nile virus, and Lyme disease. Mosquitoes and other insects carry these diseases and have been able to expand their habitat over the years.

From the changing temperatures and rainfall alone, Africa could have a 25% increase in yellow fever deaths by 2050. And while that’s an African issue, the scope is gradually increasing as mosquitoes have been able to adapt and expand to more temperate regions. Data shows that over the past century, they have travelled much greater distances year after year.

Countries will need to increase efforts in vaccines for these various diseases, however, SC Johnson is attempting to solve the root problem. At the end of January, they launched a social media campaign with OFF!, one of SC Johnson’s leading insect repellent brands. The purpose of this national campaign is to raise awareness and prevent mosquito-borne diseases.

One such method is a push to remove standing water, which is a breeding ground for mosquitoes carrying diseases.

CompAir On Air Pollution

But one of the largest concerns that climate change has impacted on our health is air quality. It’s easy for many of us to think this is a problem in less developed countries, but according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), it found in 2019, 99% of the world’s population was living in spaces where the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines weren’t met.

Poor air quality affects us all, and we don’t realise it. Beyond causing respiratory problems, it’s arguably one of the reasons COVID-19 spread so quickly. Beyond that, poor air quality is connected to diabetes, heart problems, and various cancers. It even affects the brain, especially in babies.

The primary contributor to air quality is carbon emissions, as more chemicals are released into the atmosphere and affect the air we all breathe. It’s only natural that CompAir, an air treatment company, would be invested in purifying air and making it more breathable. However, CompAir goes above and beyond what you would expect, as seen in their sustainability efforts.

One note it makes in its white paper, Compressed Air for a Sustainable Future, is that efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions include the EU Climate Law. The targets that they’ve set for 2030 on handling air pollution reflect this law, which sets limits on the level of carbon removal.

Most notable about this law is that active methods are to be used to remove carbon. Companies can’t plant trees as part of an extra initiative in order to abide by this law. The fact they are acknowledging and their targets reflect this law is unironically a breath of fresh air.

Cost Reduction And Healthy Behaviors

Of course, in the process of the development of such initiatives, companies stand to reap the benefits of connecting climate-related with health in general. Good health and and overall well being, not to mentioned improved mental health, all help foster productivity in the workplace. Long hours and a company that fails to value employees' health, versus employers who support and advocate access to resources that help employees deal with health issues or illness, stand to maintain a productive workforce, improve efficiency, and save money.

When organizations focus on how to identify stress in jobs, encourage physical and mental health wellness, and see work life balance as a pathway to personal success, that positive energy will influence productivity. To quote the Harvard Business Review:

"When done right, workplace wellness offers both near- and long-term financial and competitive returns and provides an alternative to the toxic, zero-sum game of reducing health coverage and increasing employee insurance costs."

Also, by drawing a solid line between climate-related health concerns and the workplace, we can discern the (obvious) benefits of healthy, happy, progress-minded employees. There is a direct correlate between good health and higher household income.

What more needs to be said?

Better Climate, Better Health (Better Mental Health)

The efforts that some companies are making to improve our climate are a good start. Businesses are able to make a significant difference and directly impact the issues that we are facing, such as technology to purify and filter air to make it cleaner, but to maintain progress in this regard, such initiatives need to be more than just 'initiatives'. Respect for the environment can be quantified, if need be, as respect for natural capital

Natural capital means resources, on which a business process depends. We, as people and employees, also rely on such resources: we need a workplace environment that can foster wellness, cities that provide healthy housing and civic satisfaction, and processes that avoid stress and encourage productivity. 

We need to respect both natural and human capital.

Takeaway

So, no matter how they do it, the more companies research the link between climate change and our health, the stronger that link will be in our lives. Perhaps, in this sense the most obvious way to approach the risks of anthropogenic climate change is to be 'self-serving' in the interest of our health, to see the social aspects of 'ESG' as the key driver of positive business change. 

Respect for the environment means healthy employees. Less stress leads to higher productivity and cost reduction. The efforts these companies are making are laudable, but must be codified into normality by both public support and sound policy. 

Are companies making environmental progress? Compare via sector across a growing listing of ESG ratings and sustainability reports here.

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