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Escalating Climate Change on the Electronics Industry’s Agenda

When asked to name the world's key electronics-company headquarters regions, one would likely list the San Francisco Bay Area (Silicon Valley), Japan (Sony, Hitachi, NEC), and perhaps Germany (Siemens, Bosch, etc.). As for electronics manufacturing regions, China, Malaysia (Flextronics, Sanmina-SCI), Czech Republic (where Foxconn is the largest employer), and Mexico may be most frequently named.

Each of these tech-industry regions is subject to — and in most cases has already experienced — devastation from rising sea levels and/or severe storms. “As global temperatures continue to increase, the Earth's water cycle intensifies even more,” explains the Climate Reality Project, which has documented that — in 2014 and so far in 2015 alone — up to three million people were affected by flooding in China, Malaysia's worst flooding in decades drove over 260,000 people from their homes, and severe floods devastated infrastructure and local economies in Germany, Czech Republic, and Mexico (among many other countries). Of course, in recent memory are the 2011 Japan tsunami and Thailand flood, which resulting in caastrophic electronics supply-chain delays.

One Tech Region's Vulnerability to Climate Change

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where rising seas would cost our regional economy a dollar amount equivalent to Intel's entire 2015 global revenues.  According to The Impacts of Sea Level Rise on the San Francisco Bay (by California Energy Commission's California Climate Change Center) replacing property at risk of coastal flooding from a 1.0 meter rise in sea levels would cost approximately $49 billion. A 1.4 meter rise would cost $62 billion (in year 2000 U.S. Dollars).  Underwater would be two of our three major airports, our key ports, roads, rail lines, power plants, hospitals, water treatment plants, hazardous-materials sites, and dozens of tech-company headquarters ringing the bayshore including Cisco, Flextronics, Juniper Networks, Google, Brocade, Lockheed, Oracle, Facebook, and many others.

The result would be long-term damage to the Bay Area's economic health and displacement of hundreds of thousands of employees, suppliers, and customers. (See this and other regions' flood risks in an interactive map.)

Flextronics' USA Headquarters is built on an elevated mound raising it above sea level at the edge of the rising San Francisco Bay:

What Other Industries and Communities Doing About Rising Seas

Other industries (e.g., textile, automotive, food, construction, etc.) and many communities are measuring, planning, convening, and organizing around surviving and turning around climate change.

For example, next week I will attend the Silicon Valley Leadership Group's Energy and Sustainability Summit, convening community leaders to discuss businesses' and communities' strategies for adapting to Climate Change. The conference covers strategies to advance California's clean energy leadership. We will hear how numerous business are stepping forward to make critical commitments on clean energy and Climate Change, in the lead up to December's United Nations Climate Change Conference (Conference of Parties 21) in Paris, which seeks a binding agreement to keep the world from warming more than 2° Celsius (an increase that itself would be devastating to the electronics industry).

On the Agenda, Now

Some may say that it's too early to place Climate Change survival and abatement on the electronics industry's agenda. I say it's on the late side — given the costs of ignoring the problem and miss profits from addressing it proactively. 

Clearly Climate Change is an issue that every industry needs to address.  But from my perspective the tech industry has huge business potential from aggressively mitigating Climate Change, now.

In the next installment of this two-part article series, I'll point to several profitable ways the industry can not only swiftly and creatively reduce its contributions to the problem, but also grow markets through providing solutions. 

In the meantime, has Climate Change appeared on your company's radar?  If so, how?  If not, why not?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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