Life after Covid-19: how will the lockdown impact global sustainability?


April 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day; and we have seen significant changes to the planet in those fifty years—not all of them positive.

Many have argued that the recent lockdown has changed perceptions of climate change for the better.  As skies become clearer and wildlife returns to once populous areas, people all over the planet are becoming more aware of their environmental impact. The situation has proved that it’s impossible to have a healthy population with an unhealthy planet, reinforcing the link between environmental wellbeing and personal wellbeing that those who practice mindfulness have advocated for some time.

Here are five things the pandemic has taught us, which could have a positive impact on global sustainability goals:

1. Bats aren’t the bad guys, we are. 

Research carried out in the aftermath of other pandemics such as HIV, Ebola and SARS has warned that deforestation may be causing unintentional environments to develop which host new viruses. Unfortunately, it’s taken another global pandemic for the world to realise that this could turn into a very serious problem.

In the natural world, animals such as bats and the viruses they carry are typically limited by their own ecosystem. If humans keep pushing the boundaries of where they are not supposed to go, then they create an environment in which that ecosystem is disturbed, making it easier for viruses to jump between mammals and humans. Think of it as the planet’s defence mechanism.

Here’s hoping that in a post Covid-19 world, protecting fragile ecosystems is put back on top of the agenda.

2. Behaviour change is easier than we think.

If four months ago you’d asked anyone to image a world where humans didn’t fly, cut out all but essential journeys from their homes and had a renewed appreciation for locally farmed produce, they would’ve told you it was impossible.

Covid-19 proved that wrong.

When the lockdown is finally lifted, I am optimistic that some of these new behaviours will remain in place—that our renewed care for planet and each other will be a long-term and not just a short-term response. We may see a delay or pause in climate change related  policy as governments and businesses focus on short term survival, but ultimately we will change how we do business, the way we travel, what, where and how we buy, how we interact with friends… because we have to.

3. Flexible and long-distance working.   

Technology has played an absolutely essential role in this pandemic. We’ve proved that working entirely through video conferencing is not only possible, but manageable long term.

A reduction in commuting has caused in a reduction in emissions and the planet is starting to benefit as a result.

So, what if—post Covid-19—flexible working became the norm? Lockdown has proved we can work from anywhere in globe, why not put that into practice? Why not travel or live in exotic places for a longer period of time? This would limit holiday air travel, reduce commuting, and provide new income to areas typically based on seasonality.

4. Conscious consumers and purposeful brands

Thanks to the restrictions imposed by lockdown, more people are shopping locally for their food. A small supply chain is seen as a positive thing, not only for the quality of the produce, but the local economy.

As a result of nation-wide shortages of household brands, smaller sustainable brands that were previously unknown have become more popular. For example, here in the UK the shortage of toilet paper led consumers to look towards the more expensive, but more sustainable brand ‘who gives a crap’.  Although ironically enough, they’ve been so popular they’ve also run out of stock!

The coronavirus pandemic is showing us that the brands that will prosper are the ones that focus on ‘purpose.’ Many alcohol and fashion brands have admirably pivoted their supply chains to produce sanitiser or protective equipment, while restaurants that were forced to close have decided to deliver free food to health workers. In Simon Sinek’s famous TED Talk ‘How great leaders inspire action’ he argues that “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” I’d argue that purpose and integrity will matter even more in a post-Covid-19 world.

Can you answer the question “What did you do in the crisis?” proudly?

5. A new dimension to climate change

Until now, the concept of climate change has largely been linked to changes in weather patterns and seasonality. Covid-19 has proved that its impact is so much more complex than that.

Nature has a very sensitive balance. It’s like a Jenga game. If we start taking out various pieces the structure is not as strong, but it still balances, however, there is a tipping at which the whole ecosystem collapses. That collapse has severe and sometimes irreversible outcomes, such as desertification, droughts and of course, the spread of disease in the form of pandemics.

It is clear that we must learn from what the earth has been telling us for years. Record-breaking fires, floods, melting icecaps and extreme weather conditions are nature’s way of reminding us that it is not just a commodity. It is an essential and finite resource. Looking after the planet needs to be our legacy and our priority. Even if that means sacrificing the ‘conveniences’ we are so used to.

Here at The Marketing Store, we are committed to driving sustainable innovations and researching sustainable solutions on behalf of our clients and the planet.

We know that we are only one part of a much bigger picture, but we also know that there’s much more still do. Life after lockdown is going to be different, but it’s also a great opportunity for optimism, and we plan to approach every challenge it brings with integrity, accountability and creativity.

Our work is never finished.

This article originally appeared on Little Black Book.