This week I want to share some ideas from the late British Philosopher and Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, who wrote extensively on the Environment and our Collective Responsibility for the other and a better world.
I will start with a simple definition of Environmental Limits. This is a term I would like to see more in use as we continue discussions and ideas to upgrade ESG. I will share some ancient teachings from the Bible which are so relevant for today and then ask our friend Chat GPT To provide examples of how we have exceeded environmental limits.
While you may say I am just copying and not providing any new insight. On the contrary, by sharing ancient wisdom and modern AI Tech and asking the right questions, we can better tackle today’s world’s problems.
One area I want to share this week is the impact of Healthcare on Climate Change.
“If the healthcare sector were a country, it would be the world’s fifth-largest contributor to greenhouse gas following China, the US, India and Russia.”
I, for one, did not give this too much thought.
As per my practice, I asked our friend ChatGPT for help.
“Environmental limits, also known as planetary boundaries, refer to the thresholds or boundaries within which the Earth’s ecosystems can operate sustainably without facing irreversible or catastrophic changes. These limits define the safe operating space for humanity and the planet, considering the interdependent systems that support life on Earth. Exceeding these limits can lead to severe environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, climate change, and other ecological crises.”
And that is why we need to contemplate Environmental Responsibility, Limits and Ethics if we will make a change.
Recognising these limits and limits of man to change requires a significant change in our consumption habits.
While we think this generation knows it all, nearly 3,500 years ago, the Bible (“Torah”) set out limits even in times of war.
“When you lay siege to a town and wage war against it for a long time to capture it, do not destroy its trees; do not wield an axe against them. You may eat from them; you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human beings that you should besiege them too? Only trees that you know do not produce food may you cut down for use building siege works until the town that has made war against you falls.
The Sabbatical Year
All agricultural work is forbidden on the Sabbath, “so that your ox and your donkey may rest.” (Ex. 23:12) It limits our intervention in nature and the pursuit of economic growth. We become conscious that we are creations, not just creators. The earth is not ours but God’s. It is handed over to us for six days, but on the seventh, we symbolically abdicate that power. We may perform no ‘work’, which is to say, an act that alters the state of something for human purposes. The Sabbath is a weekly reminder of the integrity of nature and the boundaries of human striving.
“What the Sabbath does for humans and animals, the Sabbatical and Jubilee years do for the land. The earth, too, is entitled to its periodic rest. “
Behind this are two concerns. One is environmental. The 12th-century Jewish sage and doctor Maimonides points out that the overexploited land eventually erodes and loses fertility. The Israelites were therefore commanded to conserve the soil by giving it periodic fallow years, not pursuing short-term gain at the cost of long-term desolation. The second, no less significant, is theological. “The land,” says God, “is Mine; you are merely migrants and visitors to Me.” (Lev. 25:23)
We are guests on Earth.
There is another group of commands which directs us against over-interference with nature. The Torah forbids crossbreeding livestock, planting a field with mixed seeds, and wearing a garment of mixed wool and linen. These rules are called chukim or ‘statutes’. Nahmanides understood this term to mean laws that respect the integrity of nature. To mix different species, he argued, was to presume to be able to improve on creation and is thus an affront to the Creator. Each species has its internal laws of development and reproduction, and these must not be tampered with:
Worrying signs that we have exceeded our Environment Limits
Something is not right – We have the following stories from the BBC this week, reported on the same day.
Cerberus heatwave: Hot weather sweeps across southern Europe
Excessive heat scorches millions across US southwest
CCN reported that Farmers Insurance pulled out of Florida, affecting 100,000 policyholders.
Some recurring issues are the high risk of Hurricanes, extreme weather, wildfires and pests and plant disease as the citrus industry, long a defining symbol of Florida, is facing an existential crisis due to a plant disease that arrived in the state in 2005 and has spread to affect 80% of the orange groves.
And as reported on https://en.prothomalo.com/environment/10mkf7h1tf.
France reports 910 dolphins washed up on the Atlantic coast. Most showed injuries consistent with being caught in fishing nets, other fishing equipment or boat engines.
Examples of how we have exceeded environmental limits:
- Climate Change: The emission of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, from human activities such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation has caused a significant increase in global temperatures. This exceeds the Earth’s environmental limit for maintaining a stable climate, leading to widespread impacts like extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and ecosystem disruptions.
- Deforestation: The extensive clearing of forests for agriculture, logging, and urbanisation has exceeded the Earth’s capacity to maintain healthy forest ecosystems. Deforestation leads to habitat loss, reduced biodiversity, soil erosion, and disrupted water cycles, impacting local and global environments.
- Ocean Pollution: The excessive discharge of pollutants, such as plastic waste, chemicals, and oil spills, has exceeded the marine ecosystem’s capacity to handle them. This has led to widespread marine pollution, harming marine life, disrupting ecosystems, and threatening the health of humans who rely on oceans for food and resources.
- Water Scarcity: Over-extraction of water from rivers, lakes, and underground aquifers for agriculture, industry, and domestic use has led to water scarcity in many regions. Human activities have exceeded the sustainable limits of water resources, causing water stress, ecosystem degradation, and conflicts over water access.
- Loss of Biodiversity: Human activities, including habitat destruction, pollution, climate change, and invasive species introductions, have caused a rapid decline in global biodiversity. This loss of species diversity and ecosystem functioning exceeds the Earth’s environmental limit, leading to ecological imbalances, reduced resilience, and potential impacts on human well-being.
- Air Pollution: The release of pollutants into the atmosphere from industrial processes, transportation, and energy production has exceeded the Earth’s capacity to maintain clean air. This has resulted in poor air quality, respiratory diseases, and environmental degradation, particularly in densely populated areas.
- Land Degradation: Intensive agriculture, deforestation, urbanisation, and mining have caused widespread land degradation, surpassing the Earth’s capacity to maintain healthy and productive land ecosystems. Soil erosion, desertification, and loss of fertile land affect food production, livelihoods, and the overall health of ecosystems.
These examples highlight how human activities have pushed beyond the Earth’s environmental limits, resulting in severe consequences for ecosystems, biodiversity, climate, and human well-being.
It emphasises the urgent need for sustainable practices and a shift toward more environmentally conscious behaviour to mitigate and reverse these impacts.
Where ESG Meets Innovation
As is my usual practice, I find an area we do not give much thought to.
One area that I want to share is the impact of the Health Centre on Climate Change. This was shared on LinkedIn by Gil Bashe. I, for one, did not give this too much thought.
“If the healthcare sector were a country, it would be the world’s fifth-largest contributor to greenhouse gas following China, the US, India and Russia. This is not the US News and World Report ranking that any hospital would want to receive. Through Eco health and climate tech innovation, the health industry has the potential to block negative impacts and become agents of positive change as we confront the greatest #publichealth challenges of our generation — the fight to sustain a healthy planet and, therefore, us.”
The global healthcare industry is responsible for two gigatons of carbon dioxide each year, 4.4% of net emissions worldwide. Hospitals generate some five million tons of medical waste annually, from everyday trash such as medical packaging and food to regulated medical waste, which includes used surgical gowns, gloves, scissors, and syringes. If the healthcare sector were a country, it would be the world’s fifth-largest contributor to greenhouse gases, following China, the US, India, and Russia. This is not the US News and World Report ranking that any hospital would want to receive.”
In this article, he shares a few areas of change:
– Telemedicine and EMRs have already reduced in-person office visits by up to 26% in the years before the pandemic, and experts report that making telemedicine a permanent healthcare delivery feature could result in a 40–70% reduction in carbon emissions.
– DIGITAL HEALTH AND EMRs ALSO SAVE TREES. In a sector known for its love of paperwork and files, Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), geared to provide convenient access to health information for professionals and consumers alike, also have another benefit, saving entire forests.
– HOSPITALS CONSUME ENERGY – It’s understandable, but hospitals have an opportunity to tap into technologies that reduce energy dependence here. “
I would also add plastic recycling, sewage, and water recycling as significant areas of opportunity; food waste and sustainable food-sourcing produce that may have the best shape and not make it into the supermarkets but are perfectly good to use is another user case.
One could add better consumption diets and fewer chemicals/ pesticides / GMOs in our food, contributing to disease fueling the pharma and medical industries. This will be explored more in future blogs
Gil, in another article, highlighted Israel as a catalyst for change.
As a Volunteer at JLM Bio-City, I will suggest an Event where “Where Healthcare meets Climate Change”. Stay tuned.
Call of action
The aim of Upgrading ESG – Sharing ideas and innovation to upgrade ESG – for a more sustainable world https://upgradingesg.com
This requires a comprehensive approach integrating sustainable practices, policy changes, technological innovation, and collective action. We can restore and protect the world by working together across sectors and taking action at various levels.
I have chosen to keep the words ESG – This represents the best chance we have for the Environment and Society. With Governance – Structure, processes, reporting and transparency as we continue to greenwash and be hoodwinked. ESG is much more than Investing ESG or Company ESG, but we need to have Country ESG, City ESG and Product ESG where we, the consumer and citizen, know the good and bad of that product for the environment and society.
Hence, the need to Upgrade ESG.
ESG represents a substantial shift in how companies and boards operate their businesses and impact the world for the better. This is cemented by the IFRS’s new sustainability standards, which require a much more comprehensive, documented approach that will drive the need for ESG compliance and assurance. Ultimately, it will affect Investors and positively or negatively on the company's ability to keep or gain new customers.
Companies and boards must take urgent action in this new ESG world. Upgrading ESG provides an opportunity for your company to boost your ESG story.
Please feel free to reach out to me by email: Jeffrey@upgradingESG.com.