Adapting to Climate Change: Environmental Liability

ClimateChange_Environment

Over the past several years, more and more companies are becoming increasingly aware of climate change issues and the necessity for sustainability/resiliency planning.  This awareness comes in many forms but primarily centers on how their business might be affected financially (through legal liability, fines/penalties, government regulations, and financial disclosure requirements) or just simply public relations surrounding responsible corporate citizenship. 

As the climate change threat becomes more real, based upon its estimated path into the future, industries are preparing for the potential impact, the importance of sustainability planning and facing that possibility that they may need to be prepared to pay a price on their carbon output.

This is not isolated to only major oil companies or large manufacturing companies who utilize vast amounts of coal to generate energy (some companies that have already taken the initiative to consider sustainability planning include firms such as Microsoft, General Electric, Walt Disney, ConAgra Foods, Wells Fargo, DuPont, Duke Energy, Google and Delta Airlines just to name a few).

Storm Surge and/or Flooding

Adverse weather events such as flooding, storm surges, droughts and heat-wave could lead to unexpected clean-up costs and/or pollution legal liabilities issues.  A few “real life” examples illustrated below.

Historic/Pre-Existing Contamination

Properties having historical or pre-existing contamination could be disturbed and, subsequently, carry pollutants to multiple locations resulting in the cross-contamination of various parts of the property and/or neighbouring properties.

Landfills

Heavy water infiltration can cause landslides carrying with it pollutants and/or contaminated waste water into nearby waterways or sensitive third party receptor areas.

Drums and Storage Tanks

Drums containing hazardous waste and storage tanks containing oils and other chemicals could be raised afloat and damaged during transport from their original locations, thereby distributing pollutants downstream.

Sewerage Authorities

Sewerage authorities have limited storage and processing capacity, therefore, large unanticipated volumes of water could result in the overflow and/or release of raw untreated sewage.

Mold Damage

Mold can grow at alarming rates given proper moisture, temperature range and food source (cellulose based substrate) following a saturation event.

“Green” Materials

Many environmental insurers are now providing coverage which give Insured’s an option to replace property with “green” materials following damage from pollutants, hence, further reducing their “carbon footprint” and addressing sustainability issues.

Many businesses experienced these scenarios during Hurricane Sandy, which resulted in costly remediation, bodily injury/property damage and staggering legal defense costs.

Droughts and Heat-Waves

While most of these loss scenarios discussed above would be addressed under a pollution legal liability policy, there are other “non-pollution” related environmental damages that would not be covered. For example:

Loss of Operating License

A major soft drink company lost their lucrative operating license in India because of an exhaustion of water resources used as raw material.

Supply Chain Disruption

A major footwear and clothing manufacturer was disrupted because an extreme weather event negatively affected cotton growth (which as one of their primary raw materials).

From a risk-management perspective, all of these exposures affect a company’s business risk and, ultimately, how insurers may view them in terms of underwriting appetite, coverage, premium, and limit for certain classes of risk.

While public policy and government intervention can help raise the importance and address the climate change issue, it’s actual corporations that can make the most impact through their own individual greenhouse gas reduction and sustainability efforts to ensure their own business success and longevity.

Climate change will continue to be one of the top concerns facing businesses across the board. Therefore, adapting proper risk management strategies and loss control planning measures early on is key.

About Anthony Wagar

Anthony is a Executive Vice President and the National Sales Leader for Willis' Environmental practice based in New…
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