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Look to the skies for new business opportunities

There has been a marked increase in companies proclaiming the impact the weather has on sales. Clothing chains in the US, including names such as Gap, are blaming unusually high Novermebr temperatures for slumps in sweater and coat sales. Wal-Mart is still experiencing the effects of Hurricane Katrina, which drove up sales in the South Eastern US as people restocked. Along with record downpours in November in parts of the Pacific North-West, the company's average 2.6% year-on-year increase in same store sales is almost respectable.

Just as rail companies blamed leaves on the line for their own failings, some management teams are quick to blame the weather for poor sales. But there's no doubt it can and does have a major impact on consumer behaviour. With climate change and more unpredictable weather, we can expect the impact to increase.

In his film 'An Inconvenient Truth', ex US Vice President Al Gore quotes Winston Churchill to apply his words not to the threat of the Nazis, but the threat of global warming and climate change. "the era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place we are entering a period of consequence."

Businesses should not only be alert to the effect their operation and production activities have on the environment, and especially the climate, but also the effect this will have on their customers.

Two thousand and five was the hottest year on record since 1860. And the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims rainfall has increased globally in the last century by almost 20%. In 2005 the US experienced a seemingly unprecedented number of large, destructive hurricanes, while Europe fell victim to a disastrous number of floods. The climate is changing for good and businesses must face the reality that consumer behaviour will follow suit. Just ask Wal-Mart and Gap.

But it doesn't mean an end to growth. "Climate change is a serious threat but also a business opportunity," Britain's environment minister David Miliband said in a statement announcing that business leaders, academics and union leaders would join a commission on Environmental Markets.

The Government estimates that the environmental goods and services sector in Britain will grow to £46bn (US $87.70bn) by 2015, up 84 percent from a current annual turnover of £25bn.

with growing demand for environmentally friendly products and services, businesses can benefit from the opportunities climate change brings.

The home improvements industry is ideally placed to do this. The home is a major energy user, responsible for nearly 30% of the UK's total carbon emissions according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and homeowners want to do something to reduce their contribution.

With the launch of the Code for Sustainable Homes on december 13th 2006, all new build social housing now has to use energy efficient components and sustainable materials in construction. The code comes into effect for all new build housing in April 2007, and will extend to cover non-residential buildings in the summer.

And VAT cuts on many energy saving products, but not yet windows, to motivate homeowners will start to have a big effect on the housing stock.

This will have an enormous impact on the construction industry. It will create huge opportunities for businesses that offer the right products and change their thinking to suit a new era and a new market.

Many 'window' companies have companies have made the leap and now identify themselves as home improvement companies. It is an important label. the home is the focus of a huge amount of future spending, much of it concerned with climate change, preparing today's housing stock for tomorrow's weather.

Both trade and private customers not only want to, but will be required to source environmentally sound products, materials and services, such as higher insulation, rainwater harvesting, solar panels or recycled PVC products. those who keep an eye on the changing skies will be quick to spot new opportunities and new markets.

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