How does Risk Management link to sustainable business practice?

This article explores the environmental impact of fires, how fire safety improves business resilience and the current issues surrounding sustainability and risk engineering. Listen also to our podcast, you will find the link at the end of this article.

The best way to be sustainable is to prevent a fire from happening in the first place. 

Fires remain the leading cause of commercial property loss and consequently are the primary focus of Risk Engineers worldwide. All fires create immense environmental impacts that include the releasing of needless carbon emissions into the atmosphere. For example, wildfires, which are becoming both more frequent and more devastating each year, emit 1.76 billion tonnes of carbon globally: a total equivalent to Germany’s annual carbon emissions.

Another key environmental impact comes from unnecessary waste and the use of resources required when many buildings must be demolished and rebuilt from scratch. Furthermore, fires in businesses and company buildings emit more than 350,000 tonnes of CO2 each year, the equivalent of around 140,000 cars with an internal combustion engine (ICE). Other than harming our environment, these varying environmental impacts can create serious consequences for the business’ productivity, their supply chain as well as the local community.

How does a risk engineer mitigate this?

The single biggest attributing factor for preventing commercial and industrial property fires relates to the installation of a compliant sprinkler system. This sprinkler system should be operationally active day and night, 365 days per year, and ready to control a fire before it consumes a building. Also, counter to what the Hollywood movies would have you believe, sprinklers only activate above the source of the heat rather than the entire building, and so limit the water damage to a property.

With sprinklers installed, and by using non-combustible construction materials, companies are able to reduce the impact of a fire and further prevent losses.

In addition, sprinklers protect the environment by avoiding wasted materials, pollution (CO2) emissions, excess Fire Rescue and Safety service (FRS) water use and water contamination. The use of FRS requires a vast amount of water (totalling more than 9 billion litres used by FRS in the UK annually, and in itself a scarce resource), and this can often result in water runoff, which can kill aquatic life across areas covering several kilometres. With companies using sprinklers, the amount of water required by the FRS is hugely reduced.

Fires in businesses and company buildings emit more than 350,000 tons of CO2 each year

Current issues surrounding sustainability and risk engineering

Sustainability and loss prevention work should be initiated when a site is being built. Here the lifespan of the materials and the entire process of recycling should be taken into consideration. It is important to analyse whether the leftover material can be used as an energy source and burned, for example, or used in connection with another process or utilised by other companies. This will increase the life cycle of the materials and thereby have a more positive impact on the environment.

Currently, there are some conflicts between risk engineering and sustainability in commercial or industrial property. A sustainable building is recognised in the industry as one which is constructed from sustainably derived materials, and not for how it implements fire resilience or active fire protection.

Sustainable construction is in itself typically combustible. There is also a drive to counter the current energy price surge with the installation of alternative sources of energy such as photovoltaic (solar) panels on the roofs of buildings. However, what we have seen with roof fires is that sustainable materials may not be that sustainable in the event of a fire, resulting in high levels of toxic emissions. At If, we always recommend that companies follow best practises for the installation and maintenance of solar panels. Contact If’s Risk Engineers for more information.

After all, it is important to conduct risk management planning and implement loss prevention measures even when utilising sustainable construction materials. 

Listen to our podcast

Listen to what James Morrell, our Risk Engineer in UK, has to say about the environmental impact of a fire.

Podcast: Sustainable risk management

Written by

Caroline Bødkerholm, If