MBA Research

Trend #45: Environmental Impact of Geographic Expansion and Growth

The world’s population is growing exponentially, now standing at 7.5 billion with the U.S. clocking in at 324.85 million. While this means the growth of almost everything in business, it also means that our environment and natural resources are being taxed in some unforeseen ways that can have a negative impact on businesses and the economy. This month’s Action Brief explores the environmental impact of geographic expansion and growth.

The strain on natural resources of the bursting population and rapid business growth is evident through food and clean water shortages in many parts of the world. Overflowing landfills and a lack of places to dispose of chemical waste are problematic. Land is over-farmed, and waste from fertilizers pollute the water. Increased urbanization is replacing much needed farmland. Individuals are commuting further distances and buying, consuming, and throwing away more than ever.

China and India are the most populous countries in the world and are becoming increasingly industrialized which creates more carbon emissions. While China has the highest CO2 emissions in the world, the United States, with fewer people and slower growth rates, still outweighs China and India in terms of per capita emissions (i.e., individuals in the U.S. are leaving larger carbon footprints). In December 2016, smog levels became so hazardous in China that everyday life came to a halt in Beijing. This “airpocalypse” stopped air and car traffic and closed schools. Face masks have become a part of everyday attire for Beijing residents.

Population, infrastructure, and industry growth also affect nature’s built-in storm protections for U.S. coastal areas. As an example, oysters help form natural barriers for waves. Over-harvesting of oysters for food, lime, or road-bedding materials left some coastal areas vulnerable to major damage from storm surges during Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. To address this problem, many restaurants are now recycling oyster shells that are placed back in the water to help regenerate oyster beds. Some coastal areas are building multimillion dollar flood blockades to take the place of the now destroyed, naturally occurring oyster barriers.

E-waste generated by consumers and businesses is a growing problem. This year alone, up to 50 million tons of electronic waste are expected to be dumped—that’s up 20 percent from 2015. There are some recycling options, but the hope is that more electronic manufacturers will get on board with the provision of recycling programs. 

What role can be played in mitigating environmental stress? Many governments, businesses, and individuals are working to roll back some of the damage that has been done or to keep matters from worsening. 

  • China has become an outspoken voice on environmental issues and is now the world’s leading supplier—and user—of solar panels. China’s endeavors have served to decrease the price of solar panels by close to 90 percent in the last decade (which drove many American solar manufacturers out of business).
  • In southern France, 35 nations are collaborating on the development of a carbon-free source of energy that is gearing to be the first fusion device to produce net energy.
  • Many businesses are working to reduce their production waste and/or power their manufacturing efforts with solar or other forms of natural energy. Major corporations out in front with these efforts are Google, Nike, and Target. Much of their efforts are fueled by consumer demand.
  • Growing populations mean more tourists, which can stress environments in heavily visited areas. Consumers are seeking “green” travel, or ecotourism, opportunities. As a result, this segment of the travel industry is growing rapidly. 
  • Thirty-one states have passed legislation approving Benefits Corporations or B-Corps. These companies are able to make social and environmental agendas part of their legal business mission.


Implications for the Classroom

It’s easy for students to focus on what is directly in front of them rather than looking at the broader world view. To help highlight the rapid population growth, have students link to the U.S. and World Population Clocks as a way of viewing real-time population growth

Ask students to evaluate how population growth has affected or changed the environment in their own communities. Have them ask older family members or friends for their perspectives. Ask students to evaluate how these changes have affected business and industry in their area either positively or negatively.\

Challenge students to consider what recommendations they would make to businesses to help promote sustainability within their communities, the United States, or on a global level.