Defining sustainability in the era of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement
Every January, the DoubleShot Creative team gets together for a multi-day offsite where we set personal goals and business objectives for the year ahead. One of my goals for 2020 is to develop a Sustainability Plan for our company in line with our agency’s core values. Since I’ve been actively involved in environmental protection and climate action for more than 30 years, currently serving on the Sausalito Sustainability Commission, I embraced the chance to focus on something I am passionate about. I planned to start by writing a blog in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 21st and address how simple behavior changes can create a healthier and more sustainable existence for our planet.
I want to encourage folks to think about their environmental impact and strive toward driving cars less frequently, composting food scraps, and avoiding single-use plastic packaging that litters our oceans and harms wildlife. As my co-workers know all too well, I can’t help but comment on what can and can not be recycled or composted whenever take-out food arrives at the office. My aversion to ordering sushi is less about the food and more about knowing each California roll would arrive in an oversized, clear plastic clamshell with only a 9% chance of being recycled — even if it made it into the blue bin. This is one of the reasons my volunteer work in Sausalito led to the passing of a single-use plastics ban that was due to start June 1st. In preparation, we were educating local merchants, speaking at neighborhood events, and helping local restaurants find alternative packaging solutions when, bam! A global pandemic arrived, and priorities changed.
Suddenly, “sustainability” took on a different meaning requiring all of us to make urgent and drastic behavior changes — not for the benefit of our environment — but for the immediate need of human survival. Sustainability practices finally adopted and ingrained to bring your mug for take-out coffee, carry reusable bags for groceries, and avoid plastic packaging were halted for health reasons and replaced with only store-provided cups, grocery bags, and lots of to-go containers. Instead of less waste generated, it surged with an influx of disposable disinfectant wipes, face masks, latex gloves, (previously banned) plastic bags, and single-use plastic bottles filled with germ killing sprays and hand sanitizer. The progress made toward prioritizing zero waste initiatives around the world was sliding backwards.
Affecting behavior change with the same sense of urgency is something climate activists have been pushing for since Earth Day was created 50 years ago.
However, the environment benefited in other ways due to the changes in our daily routines as we sheltered in place such as air quality. We were driving less frequently by not commuting to work and taking less trips to stores, gyms and restaurants. Air travel stopped and neighborhood walks and bike rides commenced. We thought more about our food chain and planned meals better to maximize supplies and reduce grocery store runs. We even learned to bake bread and grow our own vegetables. It took a global pandemic, but it proved people were willing to make sacrifices — and quickly — to sustain humanity. Affecting behavior change with the same sense of urgency is something climate activists have been pushing for since Earth Day was created 50 years ago — to preserve healthy air, water, food, oceans, rivers, lakes, forests, animals, and yes, ultimately humans.
Another sustainability issue we now face is how COVID-19, much like climate change, has had a devastating effect on our most vulnerable communities. COVID-19 is claiming a disproportionate number of Black and Brown lives due mainly to socio-economic disparities. It’s also putting undue pressure on minority businesses and incomes, threatening the long-term viability of our communities and cultures.
As Texas Southern University, professor Robert D. Bullard recently said, “Climate change is more than parts per million and greenhouse gases,” he added. “The people who are feeling the worst impacts of climate, their voices have got to be heard.”
COVID-19 and the ongoing events around unarmed Black citizens being killed by those sworn to serve and protect them, have created a tipping point and a call to protect the sustainability of our minority communities.
Those voices are finally being heard — loud and clear. Millions around the world are saying “enough” and rising up by protesting in the streets, sharing outrage on social media, and demanding we change our detrimental ways threatening the sustainability of people of color. COVID-19 and the ongoing events around unarmed Black citizens being killed by those sworn to serve and protect them, have created a tipping point and a call to protect the sustainability of our minority communities. How we react as a society to the ongoing systemic racism, financial and educational inequities, and environmental justice issues will define our future as a people and a planet.
These events have forced us to stop and think about how our actions impact others. We are starting to realize we need to change our behavior for the greater good — be it to help ourselves, our marginalized communities, or marine life. We are all connected, and perhaps 2020 is the year that teaches us what sustainability means — the continuation of life for everyone and every living thing. My interpretation of the word has certainly evolved as I take these lessons learned and weave them into my goals not just for this year, but for every year ahead.
One positive outcome of this complex and challenging time for me is believing people may finally not only care, but act when they realize issues like climate change and racism are as threatening to our world’s sustainability as a deadly, infectious disease. To honor the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, I echo the words of Fred Krupp, President of the Environmental Defense Fund that, “our goal should not be the restoration of the world as we know it, but the creation of a better world where the air is cleaner and communities are healthier and more resilient than before.”