Supply chains are now a major part of companies' environmental focus, often being the biggest source of carbon emissions in a business. But back in the 1960s there was virtually no awareness of sustainability issues at all. Here, we trace the rise of sustainability awareness.
1962: Silent Spring published
The book by environmental scientist Rachel Carson documents the harm of pesticides. It’s fiercely opposed by chemical companies but strong public opinion prompts then-President Richard Nixon to drive through Congress approval of a new body to consolidate federal environmental responsibilities: the Environmental Protection Agency.
1975: World Conservation Strategy
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) begins work on its World Conservation Strategy, in conjunction with various United Nations (UN) agencies. It leads to an acceptance that conservation through the banning of human presence no longer works. The IUCN’s World Charter for Nature is soon adopted by the UN General Assembly.
1984/86: Bhopal / Cheronobyl disasters
The Bhopal catastrophe in 1984 sees a catastrophic leak from the Union Carbide’s India plant expose 500,000 people to toxic gases. An estimated 20,000 die. In 1986 an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine sends radioactive fallout across Europe. The official death toll is 31, but Greenpeace puts the final direct and indirect death toll through the effects of radiation at 200,000.
1992: Rio Earth Summit
Officially known as the UN Conference on Environment and Development, it produces conventions on climate change, biodiversity and forestry. It recommends a raft of development practices called Agenda 21. A treaty follows, to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous interference with the climate system”. It decrees every year a Conference of the Parties (COP) will take place.
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2013: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The IPCC states that to stop global warming, net carbon emissions must be zero. This is then enshrined in Article 4.1 of the Paris Agreement, which stipulates countries must aim for net zero emissions by the second half of the century. In 2017, Sweden becomes the first country to pass a net zero law. In 2019 the UK is the first G7 economy to do so, and 2021 net zero pledges cover two-thirds of the world.