How do we meet the sustainability needs of the present?

Today most people are mindful of their environmental footprint in their daily decisions. We don’t always understand the true implication of sustainability efforts and what we can do to help. In this post we aim to explain the concept of environmental sustainability and provide some information on Snowflake’s plans to expand our sustainability program. 

Here at Snowflake we believe in the importance of embracing environmental sustainability and are eager to do our part to help. But what exactly does “sustainability” mean today? As far back as 1987, the United Nations Brundtland Commission, an organization established by the U.N. to promote sustainable development globally, defined the concept of sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” 

Those future generations are facing big challenges. According to projections by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must be reduced by “nearly 50% by 2030 and the world must reach Net Zero by 2050 in order to prevent irreversible climate change and potential catastrophic consequences.” Embracing sustainability and protecting the environment has always been important, but the next few years will be decisive for the future of our planet. 

The effects of greenhouse gases 

One of the biggest threats to environmental sustainability is climate change, which is largely caused by an excess of GHG. As explained by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the major types of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and water vapor. These gases accumulate in the Earth’s atmosphere, where they create the greenhouse effect. GHG allow sunlight to pass through them and warm the Earth’s surface. Some of this heat should be released back into the atmosphere, but is instead absorbed by GHG, emitting unnatural heat levels back to the Earth’s surface instead of allowing it to exit the atmosphere and dissipate into space. 

The EPA explains that although GHG are necessary to keep the Earth’s temperature habitable, a global increase in fossil fuel combustion and other practices of modern life has led to an increased concentration of GHG, which is endangering the planet. 

GHG emissions come from both anthropogenic (or human-made) sources as well as natural processes. Carbon dioxide, which constitutes a large portion of all anthropogenic GHG emissions, is emitted from fossil fuel combustion from uses including transportation and electricity production. 

Methane is often emitted from fossil fuel production processes, livestock agriculture, organic waste decay, and landfills. 

These two gases, along with water vapor and other GHG, are also emitted from natural sources such as the ocean, large bodies of water, and the decomposition of organic matter.  

The point of no return

If GHG continue to be emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere at the current rate, global warming may soon reach a point of no return. The IPCC has projected that the increase in the global mean surface temperature (GMST) must be kept under 1.5​​ degrees Celsius and well under 2.0 C relative to pre-industrial levels. 

Although a change of 1.5 C may not sound like much when thinking about the temperature of one specific location, an increase of 1.5 C in global mean surface temperature could be catastrophic for the planet. An increase of 1.5 C could cause long-term shifts in temperature and weather patterns around the globe. In their report, IPCC stresses that allowing global warming to reach the 1.5 C increase mark could result in significant increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and cause irreversible damage to ecosystems in different parts of the world. For example, ice melting, sea level rise, and heavy precipitation can increase the risk of flooding in some areas, while longer and more intense heat waves can contribute to droughts in other places.

So what can we do about it?

Should global warming result in this 1.5 C GMST increase, some areas of the world may undergo regional climate changes including but not limited to more extreme temperature events such as heat waves as well as increases in frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation in some regions and droughts in others. These regional climate changes increase the risk of irreversible environmental damage, such as the loss of important ecosystems that would affect both humans and animals. 

As mentioned earlier, IPCC has calculated that current GHG emission rates must be reduced by nearly 50% by 2030 and the world must reach Net Zero by 2050. However, reaching Net Zero by 2050 will require drastic and prompt action around the world—not only to reduce GHG emissions, but also to expand methods to offset the emissions still being produced. This is a huge challenge and the solutions are not easy, but there is some cause for hope. More important, there is work to be done. 

As we learn more about climate change and the importance of becoming a sustainable society, more and more governments, organizations, and individuals are taking active roles in reducing their GHG emission contributions. 

Snowflake’s sustainability vision

We here at Snowflake are eager to do our part to help overcome these challenges and help safeguard the environment for future generations. Snowflake is in the early stages of developing a sustainability program and has already identified three high impact areas to address in our workplace operations:

  1. Energy management
  2. GHG emissions (Scopes 1-3)
  3. Waste management solutions

Stay tuned for an ongoing series centered on learning more about the steps Snowflake is taking to expand its sustainability efforts, and to learn more about how you can help.