Field of Action Industry and Commerce

Pipelines on a factory siteClick to enlarge
Even industrial production is affected by climate change.
Source: Thorsten Schier/

Impacts of Climate Change

Table of Contents



Rising temperatures and more frequent heat waves occurring in the course of climate change affect the productivity and health of employees. Heat can affect the cardiovascular system and significantly restrict the ability to concentrate. In addition, the operability of machinery and storage of temperature-sensitive products such as food may be disturbed.

Accordingly, the cooling requirements of commercial buildings through air-conditioners or fans increase, which again increases the energy cost for companies. Furthermore, investments in more efficient refrigeration systems may be necessary. To what extent these additional expenses in summer can be offset by reduced heating costs in winter is not yet assessable and it is unlikely that there will be an universally valid answer. Inner city areas with a high percentage of paved surfaces, little green space and a lack of cold air supply from the surrounding areas are particularly affected by heat stress.


Water availability

Climate change increases the risk of flooding. Plants on slopes and in hollows in close proximity to waters and in commercial or inner city areas with a high building density and low flow possibilities are particularly at risk. Possible consequences include damage to plant facilities, constraints in production or even downtime.

In summer, however, it is expected that groundwater levels will decline and water levels in rivers will decrease due to decreasing rainfall and increasing temperatures. Furthermore, flowing waters are warmed up. In that case, businesses only have limited access to cooling water, especially during prolonged dry periods. Finally, conflicts with the demands of water conservation can arise, too.

The water needs of industry and commerce vary from industry to industry. However, in general the water needs are high so that these sectors are strongly susceptible to water deficiency. This may delay the production process or even interrupt it entirely. In addition, low water makes the water transport of goods more difficult. This can result in supply shortages and increased transportation costs.

In addition, rising water temperatures also affect the water quality. Businesses such as paper and chemical plants that are dependent on high water quality therefore have to handle increasing energy demands and costs for water treatment. Thus, in future, affordable and reliable water supply will play an increasingly important role for companies.


Extreme weather events

A single extreme weather event can damage or destroy business property and technical equipment. In such cases, also hazardous substances can be discharged. They endanger human health and pollute the nature and its habitats, strongly affecting animals and plants in the long term.

Commercial areas have a particularly high potential for damage due to the high property values. In addition, there is a trend in production, logistics and retail properties towards functional, flexible and less robust building envelopes, which are more susceptible to weather extremes.

Due to rising temperatures, rainfall on snow covers will become more frequent, which increases their weight significantly. If the snow stays on the supporting constructions of business buildings for quite some time, this can affect the statics and in the worst case cause a collapse entailing considerable damages to humans, material and productions.

Furthermore, weather turbulences can lead to interruptions or a breakdown of production operations, even if companies are not directly affected by the extreme weather event. This is the case if, for example, access roads are flooded and transport routes of employees or for material are blocked or when damage to infrastructure causes a disruption of electricity, fuel, telecommunications or water supply. This can entail long production or delivery losses. Especially companies with tightly coordinated production steps can be affected significantly.

Adaptation to Climate Change

Technical measures

For industry and commerce, the main risks of climate change are damages to locations and infrastructure caused by extreme weather events. In addition, supply shortages or, respectively, an increase in the cost of raw materials, water and energy are expected.

Innovative, technical measures do not only provide companies with the opportunity to produce more efficiently but also ensure that they are more independent of raw materials or cooling water. In addition, they enable companies to adapt more easily to climate change regulations or even benefit from such regulations. Climate-adapted products and process technologies, such as water-saving production methods or solutions to reduce emissions open up new market opportunities and export potential and are increasingly becoming a critical competitive factor.

Risks for locations due to extreme weather events can often be mitigated by structural prevention measures. Protection devices, such as deeper foundations, increase the building stability with respect to storms or floods. Mobile barriers can protect technical installations and reduce threats to the environment. With the help of building insulation, possible overheating in summer and limitations in work productivity can be prevented.

Political, legal and management measures

Successful adaptation requires a systematic, forward-looking risk management system, which provides for measures to mitigate and control climate and weather risks. Before constructing new buildings, a site- or region-specific risk analysis should be carried out to ensure that climate-related construction requirements are taken into account. For risk control purposes, companies also need early warning and monitoring systems, emergency plans and an appropriate insurance coverage.

Companies can meet potential shortages of raw materials and resulting production delays by diversifying locations, suppliers and raw materials and by increasingly relying on alternative raw materials. In addition, also the storage of raw materials and temporally flexible production steps are effective adaptation measures. As a result, companies are also less prone to interferences of or damages to the transport infrastructure due to extreme weather events.
In addition, the standardisation and technical regulations play an increasingly important role for the adaptation process of industry and commerce. Standards describe, for example, how technologies and products must be designed to function and match. In view of the technological change that climate change requires, some existing technical standards have to be updated and standardised and new standards have to be established in order to make innovative products marketable and adapt existing products to changing climatic conditions.

Currently, the German Institute for Standardization (DIN) is working on the revision of standards in the fields of energy supply, transportation, construction, manufacturing, as well as agriculture, forestry and waste management. For this purpose, an expert group “Adaptation to Climate Change” was established. It supports the DIN with the inclusion of climate change in national, European and international standards. However, it is necessary to revise and, where appropriate, adapt the technical rules and standards also beyond the scope of DIN, for example in the context of plant safety or in industry-specific regulations.

Furthermore, management standards such as EMAS can contribute to climate change adaptation since their aim is also the reduction of risks. In the future, business-related crisis management and business continuity management (pursuant to ISO TC 223) will need to increase the consideration of climate change. The ISO 26000 standard on social responsibility of companies (CSR and sustainability management) provides guidance for the reduction of damage susceptibility due to climate change and provides examples of climate change adaptation measures.

If you are interested in obtaining information about concrete impacts of climate change in the field of action industry and commerce, please click here.