The Earth’s climate is drastically changing, and although scientists have not agreed on the extent of the impact we can expect in the near and distant future, one thing is certain for enterprises in the tropics today: the cost of doing business will be negatively affected.
Record heat, frequent wildfires, severe droughts, rising sea levels, extreme sea temperatures, and a deepening scarcity of water are just a few of the minefields facing us all.
Small businesses, which are particularly susceptible to changes in the physical environment, need to analyse the latest projections, current conditions, and looming consequences as a matter of priority.
The way we do business must change. For example, recently, the owner of a small construction company asked for my recommendation to address operational challenges brought on by excessive heat.
“The heat has been brutal. My husband (and co-owner of the business) was with the workmen on a job recently, and they were all on the roof of the building when he said the heat was so debilitating that he had to pause the work, take the guys off the roof, and allow everyone an extended break to cool down. Even after the break, the guys were visibly exhausted and lethargic,” the business owner said.
My recommendation was that they start planning for even hotter temperatures as Jamaica remains on track to experience climate departure in 2023. I also suggested that they analyse the risk and impact – financial, human, and operational – of excessive heat on their business. This would involve an examination of productivity and output related to human performance under varying conditions.
For context, scientists have established that a comfortable temperature range for healthy human beings to work outdoors consistently is between 68? and 77? Fahrenheit. Over 77?F, there is moderate to considerable risk of heat=related illness, depending on the humidity, other environmental conditions, and human acclimatisation.
My next recommendation was that the company identify, cost, and immediately implement mitigation strategies for excessive heat and make the necessary adjustments to their standard operating procedures, or SOPs, including pricing and project planning and request for proposals. The unfortunate reality is that the cost of doing business will be higher, and it may take longer to complete a job if additional workers or equipment, etc, are not engaged.
Heat mitigation strategies
Some of these heat risk mitigation strategies may include the provision of cool shaded areas that allow for recovery, extra supplies of cool drinking water and hydrating beverages, frequent breaks and rotation, an onsite safety officer, body temperature checks, and drastically adjusted work schedules that front-load the strenuous work for early morning, which is the cooler, practical time of day.
These strategies can cost hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars per year to implement.
So far, I’ve shared one example related to construction, but I am aware of many other vastly different business models that commonly operate in the country.
For instance, a sports club catering for children which has been forced to suspend afternoon sessions, and curtail their biggest revenue earning period, to safeguard the health of the children they serve, as their vulnerable customers struggle to complete their lessons in the stifling heat. As revenues decline, the cost of business will increase as with the duty of care owed to children especially, under law, they must implement heat-mitigation strategies.
And a small restaurant grappling with dwindling patronage and high staff turnover as excessive heat makes the outdoor dining experience miserable and the kitchen conditions unbearable. The challenges are exacerbated by rising food prices and scarcity of supplies, which are also caused by climate change. They may need to revise their entire business model to one that is more climate-change resilient.
It is important to note that children have to be strictly monitored when doing outdoor activities, such as sports, during extreme heat as they can quickly become very sick from heat exhaustion and dehydration. Some experts recommend that temperatures above 84?F, with high humidity, pose serious health risks to children.
Here is where the rubber burns the road for Jamaica: even in the coolest months of December and January, the average temperatures exceed 82?F in the daytime. In May, the Meteorological Service of Jamaica predicted at least 15 to 20 heat wave days between June and August 2023. In recent weeks, the world experienced temperatures that were previously thought to be statistically impossible, with Earth recording the hottest days on record so far and Jamaica experiencing similarly oppressive heat and humidity.
The climate crisis is creating hazardous conditions for most of us. For small businesses, proactive mitigation and drastic change must start now.
Yaneek Page is the programme lead for Market Entry USA, and a certified trainer in entrepreneurship.