There is a lot of talk about how the current Coronavirus situation may impact on the future of the Climate Change debate. How will government and business efforts to count down to net-zero evolve? Will regulation relax to accommodate business challenges, or will the establishment take the opportunity to ‘restructure green’?
On Earth Day yesterday, our team was discussing what we as individuals might do differently once the global lockdown starts getting lifted. Will we go back to consumerism with a vengeance to make up for lost time? Or use this opportunity to rethink our habits?
We’ve made a short list of things we think may change in the future, in whatever small way. As the Foo Fighters croon…It’s Times Like These You Learn To Live Again!
How does the focus on Climate Change go from here?
Above all, CV-19 has been a horrific episode for us all — given the physical, mental, and financial toll it continues to have on large parts of society.
But some people are now contemplating how this pandemic affects the Climate Change debate of the future. Cleaner skies and oceans, a 2-month drop in China’s carbon emissions equivalent to half of UK annual emissions, all brings this discussion to the fore for people already very focussed on the topic of climate change.
As a team, and when I speak with friends and family, we can all feel the cleaner air and are even taken aback by how far into the distance we can now see in London, devoid of all the smog that normally constantly hangs about.
There are hopeful sections of society wishing for government and industry to use the rebuilding of economy as an opportunity to ‘rebuild right by the planet’. We would love to be proven wrong, but we think that the efforts to reduce emissions that were being talked about previously, and already perceived as more burdensome in some quarters, will get delayed, as businesses prioritise survival over proactive change. Hopefully, government incentives that push towards sustainability goals will continue, even if businesses are given a bit more short-term flexibility.
Even so, as our product proposition suggests, we think the fight for climate change will be driven by individuals and each of our experiences, during this profoundly unique situation we find ourselves in, could shape how we react to climate change in future.
How Has This Impacted You?
At a more individual level, different people have been impacted differently. Many talk about Covid being a leveller. While that may be literally true, in the disease not discriminating people it chooses to latch onto, the impact on people’s lives is very varied and far from level.
We see it hitting the already vulnerable the hardest, we see it hitting manufacturing and high street businesses much worse than some services that have adapted to life working from home. This means that this has changed how different people are perceiving the impact on them personally for the longer term.
There will be a group of people that will be hit financially and will need to tighten down their spending and focus on building up their finances over the coming months. And there will be a fortunate group who have ended up saving through this period and perhaps will be thinking about whether they can sustain this level of saving going forward too. And I’m sure there will be people that can’t wait to start spending again!
Apart from the financial situation, there are also different attitudes to going back to crowded places and getting on with our lives, even if the government-imposed lockdowns start getting gradually released. I have heard people say they wouldn’t want to get out and about till the risks are clearer, while others can’t wait to get back to being around people again.
For everyone though, the consumption behaviour has drastically changed these past few weeks.
Where Are We Saving Today?
This situation has forced all of us to change our spending habits. We are at an interesting ground zero to re-baseline our future consumption from here. So we put together a short list of things that we have seen change with our own spending and contemplate whether there is something we can do to be more sustainable in the future — for our wallets as well as the planet.
Any other things you are thinking of? We’d love to hear about it.
1. Food, Glorious Food!
As we all use our varying degrees of prowess in the kitchen, some of us have embraced the opportunity to keep the variety of our culinary experiences at much greater levels than eating at work or at uni, while others grudgingly complete the chore to feed yourself 2–3 times a day!
In either case, we’ve found that:
- We are spending more on groceries, less on eating / drinking out — net-net, a significant saving for most people we speak to
- This is a great opportunity to eat healthier…and more sustainably — fresh, seasonal food with more veg and fruits in our diet. Food produces about 15%-20% of a household’s carbon footprint, so cutting down on this has a material impact overall
- Given that we are having to ration our supermarket trips or online orders, we are also wasting much less than pre-lockdown, and being far more diligent in using up perishables. Earlier the temptation to eat out or the loss of enthusiasm that we had when buying ingredients in the store would end up wasting more of what was in the fridge or our cupboards.
While dining and drinking out will (and should!) come back when the lockdowns relax (and even now we do get the odd takeaway to give ourselves that little treat now and then), will we end up being more conscious about how we source our food, what we spend on it and how much we end up letting go to waste ?
Finally, there’s the daily coffee / tea on the way to work that have become a thing of the past for many. I know some who miss this as part of their daily routine the most! But when we get back to work, will we be comfortable enough having our cuppa at work — in a porcelain cup and without that growing hole in our pocket from the ubiquitous Pret near us?
2. Home Sweet Home
Staying and working from home has meant people are spending a lot more time with their laptops (and TVs of course) on. Work and streaming entertainment eats up more domestic electricity today than pre-lockdown. Fortunately, the weather has been so good over this period, that heating hasn’t increased much despite us staying home longer.
Of course, if the trend to work more from home persists — say an extra day of working from home — then we are likely to see higher domestic energy bills. But this should be offset by lower business energy use over time.
As we use more energy, maybe we will focus on making homes more efficient and reduce carbon and costs — lighting, insulation, appliances. And while saving, we can also switch to tariffs that are more green (there is a lot of debate on what this actually means…one for another day!).
3. Road Trippin’
While there are the incredible essential workers still making those trips to keep society running, most of us are no longer using transport any more — public or otherwise. Road travel has dropped over two-thirds, public transport by over 80%. This has probably been one of the biggest reasons for the cleaner air and smog-less skies.
Do we think many more of us can move to:
- Working one more day a week from home than we did (straight away cut down travel emissions)
- Cycle / walk a lot more one more day a week — where feasible — to and from work
The flip side of this is whether more people will want to use their own cars because of an aversion to crowded public transport in the near term.
The lockdown has given everyone a perfect simulation of what life would be if we all drove and travelled less. The memory of the clean air, the clear views and flourishing nature around us may help push people to be a bit more frugal about the trips they take. At least as long as those memories are fresh.
4. Around the World
This is probably one thing that many people miss the most, seeing as Easter travel had to be cancelled because of the Corona. We think holiday travel will be one of the last things to open up. But when it does, it will be interesting to see how people react to it. And will the airline industry, that has been battered by the shutdown, even be able to go back to ‘normal’ in the medium term?
Will we see staycations having their day in the sun for a while, or will people starved of trips to international shores result in a jump in international travel? As a team with family outside the UK, for example, we will want to visit family abroad soon after it’s safe to travel.
But maybe this experience will tip over those of us already thinking about it, to save on one trip a year — even this will make a dent to what takes up a large chunk of our budgets and carbon footprint for many of us.
5. Shop Till We Drop
With high street retail shut, the temptation of impulse buys has largely gone away over this period. In most cases, shopping for general stuff like clothes, shoes, home accessories has come down a lot. Working from home for many means we don’t need that new pair of shoes or new suit we would otherwise buy. There is also a renewed recognition of the clutter and clothing piles that we have accumulated over time as we spend more time at home.
Can we resist the urge to buy the new top that just piles onto our many in the cupboard, or repair that pair of jeans that has a small tear, when things get back to normal as well? Clothing is estimated to account for 8% of global greenhouse gases.
Will We Become More Conscious?
What is anyone’s guess right now, and we are thinking about as we build our product, is the effect this crisis will have on how we, as a nation and planet of consumers, behave when things start to become more normal.
Will there be long-lasting effects on what people choose to spend on? Historic crises (like the 2008 one) have shown little evidence of sweeping changes, but they all have subtle, long lasting effects on people’s behaviour.
We believe it is naïve to assume that the experience of these few months, however unique and impactful, will drastically change the way we behave as individuals. However, we have had the best demonstration of how our everyday grind impacts the planet and our pockets. That, we think, will leave a mark on our subconscious when we all start to think about climate change again in earnest.