Think saving The Great Barrier Reef is out of your hands or entirely irrelevant to you? Think again! Climate change is everyone’s problem and we can all make a difference; down to the last procurement pro!
If you’re lucky enough to have travelled to the coast of Queensland, Australia and visited The Great Barrier Reef, you’ll agree that it is a true wonder to behold.
At 2,300km long it is the largest living thing on earth (roughly the size of Italy or the equivalent of 70 million football fields) and home to an incredible range of wildlife from dozens of species of fish, to sea turtles, to dolphins and so much more.
“It is one of the greatest, and most splendid natural treasures that the world possesses.”- Sir David Attenborough
But it’s under serious threat from a number of environmental factors and it’s everyone’s job to save it; not least procurement’s. We caught up with Anna Marsden, Managing Director – Great Barrier Reef Foundation to learn more about what’s at stake and what we, as professionals, can do to help.
Three factors threatening the Great Barrier Reef
- Climate Change
Tropical sea surface temperatures have risen by 0.4–0.5 °C since the late 19th century. In unnaturally warm conditions coral becomes stressed and agitated, leading it to expel the algae that gives it its colour and eventually bleaching. Whilst bleached coral is not yet dead, it is an indicator of severe stress. And if the sea temperature is consistently high for longer than 30 days; it will eventually die. “Look in your garden on a hot day or even a hot week” explains Anna. “Your plants will start to wilt and eventually, if the temperatures don’t decline, they will perish.” The effect that extreme heat has on a coral reef is much the same.
“Other ways we are seeing climate change playing out is in extreme weather. In recent years there have been more Category 5 cyclones than ever before which are hugely damaging; destroying and weakening the reef’s structure.”
“The reef has always had natural foes and challenges, but this is the first time it’s at such a scale” Anna explains.
- Water Quality
Declining water quality is recognised as one of the most significant threats to the long-term health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef.
“So much waste washes into our oceans – extra soil, extra fertiliser etc which is making it extremely dirty. And nothing grows well in dirt!” Anna asserts. “Whilst bad water quality itself isn’t a life-ending challenge for the Great Barrier Reef, it does reduce the resilience of the system and, on top of everything else going on, it’s a big problem.”
- The Crown-of-Thorns Starfish
Increasing sediment, nutrients and contaminants entering coastal waters has been linked to outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish, a species which, Anna jokes, “belong in an alien movie!”
“They munch on the coral, each one managing to consume a dinner plate’s worth of it every couple of days. Excess nutrients from sugar cane farms amplifies their breeding patterns.”
Why should procurement teams care?
‘At what price?’ a recent Deloitte report, which investigated the economic, social and icon value of the Great Barrier Reef estimated its worth at $56 billion; taking into account tourism, fishing, marine science and research. The study also calculated that the reef has resulted in the employment of over 64,000 Australians between 2015–16.
So it’s undeniable that there is real, and huge, value in the Great Barrier Reef – it’s genuinely worth salvaging.
But it can also be usefully thought of as the, slightly harrowing, poster-child for climate change. It’s understandably difficult for procurement professionals around the world to understand the impact their actions are having in terms of climate change and the polluting of our oceans. But the sorts of changes and damages reported by the Great Barrier Reef foundation are mirrored across the world’s oceans.
Take plastic pollution as an example; eight million tons of plastic enter our oceans each year and it’s predicted that by 2050, there will more plastic in the ocean than fish.
What can businesses do?
“Ultimately we need to start moving faster towards a renewable energy environment,” explains Anna. “There’s no single cause in this and there are roles that all businesses can play”
Fortunately, a number of big corporations are helping to provide innovative solutions to protecting the Great Barrier Reef.
“At present divers are hand-shooting crown of thorns starfish with a saline solution, which is an extremely slow process.”
But a robot being developed through a Great Barrier Reef Foundation project partnership with Google and the Queensland University of Technology, aptly named ‘RangerBot’ has the capability to do the work of 50 divers per day. It works 24/7 and can function in choppy waters. “One day soon we’ll be able to drop six of them into an infested area and come back to collect them only when their work of culling the starfish in that area is done!”
Another inspiring example of corporations doing good for the Reef is Rio Tinto’s RTM Wakmatha vessel that has been dubbed the ‘ship of opportunity’. Rio Tinto invested in a laboratory on their ship which collects vital data as the ship travels along the Queensland coast in the ordinary course of business. This data is used to gain insights as to how ocean chemistry is changing across reef habitats.
Another cool tech solution is a polymer-based sun shield that hangs together in the water for about two days after deployment, forming an umbrella and cutting out 30 per cent of UV light to protect the coral. Made of calcium carbonate, the sun shield is 100 per cent biodegradable and is absorbed back into the system once it has dissolved.
What can YOU do?
As hard as it is to know how to effect real change, there are small things we as individuals can do, and encourage our organisations to do. Banning single-use plastic bags, cycling to work or using keep-cups are all small and immediate positive changes we can make.
Further to that, procurement pros should ask themselves – what can I do with the purchasing power in our company?
As Anna points out, “climate change is about our relationship with the planet. We all make decisions that drive it, we all have a role to play in this.”
“One of our corporate partners is Cleanaway – Australia’s leading waste management, recycling and industrial services company.”
Cleanaway work with big businesses to ensure sustainability is as the core of waste-sorting and encourage the adoption of reusable resources.
About the Great Barrier Reef Foundation
The Great Barrier Reef Foundation exists to ensure a Great Barrier Reef for future generations. We seek out the solutions and innovations that will also benefit coral reefs globally as they tackle the same threats and challenges facing the world’s largest coral reef.
“Our focus in the short term is on boosting the resilience of the Reef to allow it to bounce back from major challenges as a result of a changing climate and declining water quality. We’re buying the Reef time while the world works to meet the conditions of the Paris Agreement.”
Procure with Purpose
Procurious have partnered with SAP Ariba to create a global online group – Procure with Purpose.
Through Procure with Purpose, we’re shining a light on the biggest issues – from Modern Slavery; to Minority Owned Business; and from Social Enterprises; to Environmental Sustainability.
Last month’s webinar on modern slavery, Procurement Unchained, will soon be made available on-demand via the Procure with Purpose group on Procurious. Click here to enroll and gain access to this and all subsequent Procure with Purpose events.