Rising waters could submerge global manufacturers
While extreme heat is a major emerging manufacturing risk as a result of climate change, it’s not the only one. Increased exposure to flooding in facilities is another threat that manufacturers around the globe are increasingly facing.
Flooding threatens huge swaths of the U.S. In June, an Abbott Laboratories factory, which was made infamous by its contamination of baby formula, was forced to pause production for weeks due to flooding in the facility following a storm.
The issue is also impacting major manufacturing hubs in low-lying regions. In a study from Cornell University and the International Labour Organization, researchers found that contract manufacturers and suppliers in Southeast Asia are susceptible to extreme flooding and eventual submersion if their sites aren’t moved to higher ground.
The situation will be particularly dire for these companies, as many lack the same resources and infrastructure enjoyed by their multinational customers.
“For buyers, the relative lack of attention to sea level impacts on suppliers and their workers underlines the nature of the relationships; buyers with very few exceptions do not own factories and risks such as catastrophic flooding belong to their suppliers,” researchers wrote in the report.
Research like the International Labour Organization’s and the Horizon Project’s can help guide federal policies around issues such as worker safety standards for extreme conditions, the associate director said.
“I would want a manufacturer to know that the effects of climate change are going to be much wider. Adapting is really important,” the associate director said. “But the fact that this is likely a conservative underestimate about the effects of climate change on the workforce just points to the importance of that flip side of the coin, which is mitigating and doing your part to reduce emissions.”
Experts say the time to start tackling the risk is now
Threats from climate change are felt around the globe and from every variety of manufacturers.
The ubiquity of the risk is part of why experts say managing it will be a critical factor for companies’ future planning strategies. It will impact both how they manage risk and their emissions, two issues that are inextricably tied together, said the professor at Georgia Tech’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering.
The higher the global emissions, the more severe the disruption.
“I see two directions here. One is we are seeing more and more companies being more concerned about the environment in general,” the professor said. “The other thing is from an economic perspective, floods and so forth, these things generate a lot of risk. So how do you deal with all the different risks involved?”