Coronavirus – healing our planet?

Published by Mark Attwood on 1 April 2020

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Last updated 1 April 2020

Whilst the pandemic is a global health crisis for humans, it has already had a dramatic impact on the health of our planet. In a matter of weeks, the reduction in plane travel and shut down of factories has created a decrease of emissions so great that is visible from space (read BBC’s article here). Some have even suggested this is nature’s way of sending us a message. Businesses have had no choice other than reacting quickly and decisively when faced with the absolute uncertainty the Coronavirus pandemic has brought upon us. The question is – should they be acting with the same level of urgency in relation to the climate crisis?

And why does it matter?

All businesses depend on nature to some extent as the earth provides our societies with all the things we need to survive; clean air and water, food, soil, our seas and a stable climate.  It is undeniable that the widespread loss of nature is causing instability to all of these on a global scale.

All evidence suggests that we must make drastic changes to our behaviours to avoid catastrophic changes to our planet; and businesses at every level play a fundamental role in orchestrating this change. No-one knew how or what this looked like, and it has been historically difficult to influence change on a global scale when profits are at stake.

But it can be done if we re-imagine ‘business as usual’.

What will be interesting to see is how the pandemic could contribute to innovation within our economy, and how this impacts the ability for companies to think about embracing sustainability.  Businesses will perhaps be bolder; we have already seen entire sectors very quickly adapting their business models as a knee jerk response to the virus (for example restaurants, wholesale food companies and farmers markets alike are now providing home delivery services). While supply chains are stretched, there are huge incentives to source products locally. Individuals are becoming more resourceful; homeworking is our new ‘normal’ and businesses across the country are reacting to this. Changes which have a positive impact on sustainability suddenly become more achievable if they are interlinked with a clear business strategy.

COVID-19 has demonstrated the fragility of society as we know it but also demonstrated that businesses can, and will, adapt and change in the face of what is necessary. The challenges COVID-19 presents also provide the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate priorities and strategies, not only so that businesses can survive the next three months; but also to ensure they can continue beyond and into whatever our new world may look like. All companies must think further ahead and consider how their new ‘business as usual’ places sustainability at its heart; to ensure that we protect our planet and ensure that our societies can remain fully functioning for our future generations.

What will you do to help our planet in the future?

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) provide a host of information for businesses to set themselves targets so that collaboratively the goals can be met by 2030. Some easy wins that Coronavirus has proved possible, and that we would hope continue to be prevalent in every business once the outbreak is over include:

  • The ability to host meetings ‘virtually’, negating the need for travel and thus reducing carbon emissions.
  • Companies encouraging working from home more, and by all levels of employee – which not only promotes diversity and gender equality, but directly contributes to commuter miles and reducing the carbon footprint of companies.
  • Utilising online or digital alternatives to paper – remote working during the outbreak has demonstrated that most work functions can be performed digitally.

What we hope to see is:

  • A surge of innovation to reduce carbon emissions (including ‘Greening the Internet’).
  • The second-hand industry developing to make this the norm.
  • Incentives to source products locally – we have proved it is possible.

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