How this pandemic could help us to become more sustainable
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How this pandemic could help us to become more sustainable

The list of challenges ahead is long. But with great change comes the opportunity to change for the better.

read time 6 mins

Has COVID-19 changed us for the better?

2019 – the year we woke up to climate change.

2020 – the year our world has faced a serious crisis on a global scale.

How are the two related? We’re going to be brutally honest. Yes, 2019 raised awareness for climate change like never before. People took to the streets to raise awareness and started to take recycling more seriously. It was also the year we became increasingly aware of the importance of dropping emissions and banning single-use plastics.

But… up until Covid-19, we had never experienced a truly global crisis on this scale before. Despite many countries and places where disease, lack of access to sanitation (two billion people are without it, that’s one in four people!) and clean water is limited, many of us have been in the privileged 1% of this world bubble (yes, you are probably one of them). Chances are that we have never seen or even come close to suffering first hand on such a large scale before.

We’ve probably academically understood climate change (we’ve even studied Sustainable Business at the University of Cambridge, so perhaps understand it more than most), but if we’re really truly honest we probably still didn’t quite believe it was happening to the full extent it was.

Or we probably believed it was still possible to undo the damage that has been done.

Fast forward to today and we’ve learned a sobering lesson the hard way. All these doom and gloom messages and warnings we’ve quietly dismissed before… well one of them has now come true. A global pandemic – the likes we’ve only known from Netflix – has taken place. Will it affect our behaviour for the better moving forward? Will it trigger governments to take more drastic action on climate change? And will it move businesses to become more sustainable, when most of them are currently in survival mode?

Or… will we simply return to old bad habits, put ourselves first and get absorbed by our obsession of maintaining financial systems? Or keep us chasing positive annual growth so we can have a pension fund big enough to sail around the world at the age of 75?

Time will be the ultimate judge, but here are some facts, figures and ideas to help us all reflect on what could happen. And what really shouldn’t.


The issue with emissions

Let’s start with some positive news. After much head-scratching and data modelling a new study led by scientists from the University of East Anglia and Stanford found that daily global CO₂ emissions in early April 2020 were down 17% compared to the mean level of emissions in 2019.” Problem solved? Of course not.  Whilst cleaner skies in cities are great it turns out that emissions come in many different forms and what we have reduced by sheer force of a global pandemic will do very little to reduce greenhouse gases in our atmosphere in the long run.

The economic balancing act

On top of that as the World Economic Forum explains “the aviation industry is facing its deepest-ever crisis, with 90% of the global fleet grounded. Meanwhile, global commodity prices have seen their largest fall on record, dropping 20.4% in the month to March 2020. Global trade for the second quarter of 2020 is now forecasted to drop by a precipitous 27% compared with the same quarter last year. Tourism is forecasted to fall this year by between 58% to 78%.”

So the positive news here comes at a significant economic cost, without solving the problem or providing a long-term solution.

To say the balance we all are trying to strike here is difficult is an understatement. On the one hand, we are facing a global recession, possibly larger than anything we’ve ever faced before. “Nowcasts shows that 40 to 60 million people are expected to be pushed into extreme poverty in 2020—that is, living on less than $1.90 a day—as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.” At the same time, we still haven’t made a dent in climate change that can destroy our planet and will make matters even worse.

So, should we just give up then?

“Do what you can do, with what you have, where you are.”
Theodore Roosevelt

What can governments do?

If there’s one thing we’ve all learned from the crisis it is that it’s surprising how much and how drastic governments can act when forced to.

True, the debt bill we’ll have to foot will sting and stick with us for a very long time, but faced with no other option, governments have stepped up quickly to try to salvage economies and peoples’ livelihoods.

Will they take the same approach to climate change? Despite most being unanimous that they should use regenerative fiscal policies to facilitate a more sustainable and circular economy approach, many are raising serious questions as to whether they will, given that their current focus is on regenerating and saving huge global industries.

Governments have to make very difficult but crucial decisions

What can business do?

First of all you need to survive. Once the financial survival instinct hits home it can get ugly very quickly. And whilst Covid-19 has probably put some of your altruistic goals to help save the planet on hold, you need to remember that you are now serving a different generation of consumers and customer. Less naive, more worried about the future and more likely to take drastic measures to protect themselves and their families. We shop more consciously, we spend less excessively. We’ve worked out that working from home isn’t that bad and living with too many things isn’t good for our mental health.

So to survive as a business, becoming more sustainable and more circular in your approach has become even more crucial. And whilst people care about their health and safety, they are also more informed, more choosey and more judgmental of you and how you conduct yourself.

Or as Jing Daily puts it:

Younger, educated, Chinese luxury buyers have a more holistic view of value. Their identities are no longer defined by logos and labels, and their enlightened understanding of the world brings with it an intensely conscious effort to connect with the world and find real purpose. Their anti-consumerist attitude has pushed health, culture, and experimentalism to the forefront.

So whilst you’re thinking about cutting costs to survive in the short term and becoming more resilient and functioning online, think carefully about how you survive in the medium to long term. And new exciting tools, powered by blockchain and open data, such as Provenance, can help you make your supply chain more transparent.

Have we finally become more conscious consumers?

What can you and I do?

When hit by huge sobering news of never-seen-before proportions our natural response is to simply stick our proverbial head in the sand and pretend like it’s not happening. But our power lies in the decisions and choices we make every day. Businesses and governments listen to money and data. That means that doing something different once is not going to make much of a change. Doing it regularly will. 

Being persistent and taking small but consistent action when choosing our food and clothing, choosing a walk or bike ride instead of a car, or working from home more altogether, picking a new greener energy supplier, disposing of our rubbish responsibly – all of it adds up to masses of data and money. The compound effect of these small actions, along with sustained pressure on our governments to take climate change seriously, might just make the difference we all need before it is too late.

Whilst this article maybe not as bright as what we usually like to write, we are Brightful and we stand by it. We believe in the power of small things making a big difference. And we don’t just talk, we’ve lived this way for many years before the pandemic hit. Not because we’ve studied it, understood it and advised our clients on it. But because, quite simply,  it’s a better, more sustainable way.

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