The waters of Venice have returned to a true blue, the skies of Beijing are clear of haze, and Boars in Northern Spain have decided the cities belong to them. The environmental benefits of this crisis are plain to see, but what may be just as obvious, is the likely short-term effect.
Our infrastructure, lifestyles and cultures are aligned firmly in the opposite direction to radical environmental change and most likely, destruction. And whilst I accept the view - it takes a crisis to evoke major change - the vision of a green utopia on the other side of this pandemic is likely fantasy.
That said I do not wish to discredit the optimism or desire. We must capitalise on what few opportunities this crisis presents, and the opportunity for environmental change is perhaps the most pertinent. However, it is important our expectations and actions are set with some perspective to avoid misplaced ambitions.
Environment issues vs COVID-19
In a recent study conducted with the talented team at Crowd DNA, Norstat found that almost two thirds agreed with the statement "Protecting the environment will have to wait until after the corona virus crisis", underlining where the climate crisis sits on the agenda of most of the population. In order to live, work and play, many of us put our own environmental interventions on the back burner, and despite the consequences being harder than ever to ignore, we don’t change our mindset.
But all is far from lost. Rather than believe immediate and drastic change is the only way forward, perhaps there are smaller adjustments brought about by this pandemic that can be capitalised upon. Whether these adjustments directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously, result in environmental benefit is not the biggest concern. Simply understanding what these adjustments are, and how we ensure they are maintained, is the key to developing a new, better, greener ‘normal’ on the other side.
How our research can help dicover the trends emerging with COVID-109 that could also help the environment in the long run
First, we start with the new demand for local. Over two-thirds of the UK population are worried about the future of their local bars, cafes and restaurants. And, just shy of two-thirds would be willing to help their local independent outlets through the corona virus. A tremendous sense of community is something that we have seen permeate through this crisis. Supporting the high street has long been on the Government agenda, but its environmental benefits are often underplayed.
Another unsurprising trend is the increased desire of many to work from home more often. Almost a third of people want to continue to do so after the crisis is over. Reducing the number of commuters is likely to have a profound impact on emissions. Major cities in the UK burn red hot, as those searching for a larger family home move outside urban areas and travel remarkable distances to the office. Again, often the wellbeing message overpowers the environmental benefit when discussing the topic. With pledges to support rural broadband and provide funding to businesses outside the M25, perhaps the Government should double-down on these initiatives with an environmental hat on.
Last but not least, we are seeing an uptick in conscious purchasing. It is known that life stage changes or shocks to routines are the best time for brands to strike, and COVID is no different. Over 4 in 10 of us have thought more about which brands we buy since the start of Coronavirus. This consciousness is highly likely to transition to the next global agenda – the climate. Furthermore, almost half of us are aligning more closely with brands that we perceive to take positive action to help the vulnerable during this crisis. It appears Government should jump aboard this societal trend and increase support for those brands that take their responsibility for the climate seriously.
In the end, it's all about finding the right balance
So, let us be pessimistic enough to not underestimate human beings’ capacity for self-interest and not overestimate our ability to change. But let us also be optimistic enough not to overestimate the success of enforcing seismic change and not underestimate the power of perspective in taking positive action and developing realistic goals. Together, we can all learn a great deal from this crisis and with self-discipline and attainable goals, we can ensure that all of this disruption wasn’t for nothing.