These days, taking steps to reduce carbon emissions is almost part of a licence to do business. And that makes it the concern of everybody in the industry

"AM I bothered?" "Talk to the hand." "Whatever." Modern English has lots of different ways of saying we don't care. And it's quite fashionable not to care about all sorts of things - which political party runs the country, who wins the Liberal Democrat leadership election, who won Celebrity Big Brother …

But we all seem to care quite passionately about some things - ask anyone if we should have gone to war with Iraq or whether we should test drugs on animals, and you can guarantee they'll have a view. Environmental issues - and specifically climate change - are gradually making their way onto this list. And most encouragingly, the debate seems to be moving on from whether it's real to how quickly it will happen and what we should be doing about it.

Last week, the report Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change made headline news when leading scientists predicted that an increase in temperature of 2.7°C would lead to irreversible damage to the Greenland ice sheet. Although complete destruction is a long way off - up to a thousand years - the terrifying aspect of this report was that we could reach a tipping point where the damage becomes irreversible within our lifetimes.

It's tempting to ask what possible difference this kind of thing would make to us, sitting safely in a temperate climate several thousand miles away. The scientists answered that one, too. If the Greenland ice cap does melt, sea levels around the world will rise by seven metres. That's high enough to flood parts of London - what price the Thames Gateway then?

And the rate of damage is speeding up. Just five years ago the British Antarctic Survey regarded Antarctica as "stable"; now they describe it as "disintegrating at an alarming rate".

I can almost hear you asking: "So what do we do about it?" The answer is simple, and incredibly challenging. We need to reduce carbon emissions. All of us. And we need to do it faster and to a far greater degree than we previously thought - even those of us who signed up to the Kyoto Protocol, never mind the ones who didn't.

This is where you come in. It's very tempting to assume that issues such as climate change and sustainability belong in the in-tray of your corporate social responsibility manager, or maybe your environmental specialist. There are four reasons why you can't afford to do that.

It’s very tempting to assume that issues like climate change and sustainability belong in the in-tray of your corporate social responsibility manager. There are four reasons why you can’t afford to do that

First, there are great opportunities for this particular industry to make a difference. The energy used to heat, light, cool and ventilate buildings accounts for about half of the UK's carbon dioxide emissions. That's more than transport. How you design, build and operate the nation's infrastructure can make a real impact on this problem - and this fact has not been lost on the government, either.

Second, you have the right skills to deliver. Much of the technology and expertise, and certainly all of the ideas, are already there. What is needed is the acceptance of low-carbon technology into the mainstream, and more sustainable practices in everyday buildings. There are some shining examples of good practice around already, but they tend to be one-off developments where every conceivable environmental innovation is showcased. This is great for demonstrating the possibilities, but not so good in terms of making a difference on a large scale. What is needed is the widespread adoption of simple, effective measures that can be replicated across a broad range of projects.

Third, this is something your clients care about. More and more blue-chip companies are making a virtue of good environmental performance and demanding it from their supply chains. Moreover, ranking systems like FTSE-for-Good and the BITC index are giving them tools to measure and improve what they do.

The public cares, too. There is research in the UK and the USA showing that the man in the street expects the big organisations he deals with to take care of environmental impacts on his behalf. This is no longer an added extra - it's almost part of a licence to do business.

Finally, your staff will love it. People like to be part of something positive, and young people in particular are often interested in environmental issues. In the past five years with Wrap, the Waste and Resources Action Programme, I have been staggered by the number of bright people who want to join us specifically because we work in the environmental arena. In an industry that constantly competes for its share of the brightest and best young talent, companies with a genuine commitment to sustainability are bound to have an edge.

Are you bothered? You should be.