No way back to ‘Normal’

This is a guest article by Xander Mol. Xander moved from the Netherlands to England in 2010 and studied Law. During his Masters in European Law he wrote a dissertation on compensatory provisions for biodiversity loss in the EU which sparked his interest in sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

What are we seeing?

The canals of Venice are clear. Citizens of several cities in India can see the Himalayas for the first time in centuries. Animals venture into towns in Wales. During this difficult time, the effects on our planet of our movements have become truly clear.

During this strange time people are suffering terribly – some worse than others – and we have seen the effects of both great and terrible corporate and political policies and actions.

This article focuses on some of the light that found its ways through the cracks.

Flexible working has been met with scepticism by many until the COVID-19 crisis, which forced the sceptics to embrace the concept.

It has shown that so much can be done from home. It is encouraging to see how people have embraced the concept of flexible working in such difficult circumstances.

We have also seen what is possible globally when we treat a crisis as a crisis.

Success stories can be found where drastic measures were taken, funds were made available for essential services and where people acted as one on individual, corporate and political stages.

A picture of a bicycle in the countryside

Community and Initiative

Heart-warming initiatives have been seen in the communities and the corporate world.

We see small gestures such as clapping for key workers and displaying rainbows but also larger initiatives such as companies changing their production lines to produce PPE, companies offering specialist financial and career advice and charity events in which you can participate from home.

We are all amazed by Captain Tom Moore, who managed to raise £28m for the NHS by walking laps around his garden. When we are united, we can really make a difference.

A Sense of Change

Let us keep hold of that sense of community. That drive to make a difference.

Greta Thunberg urges leaders to treat a crisis as a crisis. COVID-19 severely disrupts all our lives, some more than others. It is an immediate crisis and treated as such with various degrees of success.

The climate crisis is rapidly creeping up on us and the effects are evident. We have not treated it as a crisis and for many it has been perceived as something distant. We have world leaders ignoring it, prioritising short-term economic gain.

In a Reuters webinar on 23 April led by US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, the forces that have prevented substantial climate action in the US were discussed. Whitehouse revealed a toxic culture in which American fossil fuel giants pull the political strings, preventing climate action through lobbying and political funding.

He highlighted hesitation by companies striving towards a sustainable economy to fight for climate action in American politics. He urged for such companies to unite and send lobbyists who fight for environmental action.

COVID-19 has created momentum for change. An increasing number of people do not want to go back to ‘normal’ as they feel it was not ‘normal’ in the first place. There is a drive to return to a sustainable way of living and to make the planet’s breather the start of that sustainable revolution we need.

A picture of a country path

When we return

Companies will need to continue to embrace flexible working.

It will reduce the number of commuters and associated pollution, improve people’s work-life balance and health as well as reduce the need of office space. It will increase the efficiency of operations.

A recent BBC article highlighted that it is expected that use of public transport will be lower than before the lockdown once the lockdown is lifted as some will avoid it in fear of COVID-19.

While that is a completely understandable response, our focus should lie on making public transport a safe way of travel.

It will be better and safer to avoid public travel for some with underlying health conditions but our infrastructure and the impact on the climate of fossil fuel cars makes it not an option for us to dodge public transport in large numbers.

Making public transport safe will be a key challenge when we lift the lockdown. Continuing to embrace flexible working so that less people need to commute could be one step towards enabling us to use public transport while maintaining 2 meters of distance from each other.

Furthermore, are all those business journeys necessary? Or could we do with a fraction of them now that we are more comfortable with digital meetings? Another way to avoid unnecessary travel.

Pressure on politicians to take climate action needs to be increased as Whitehouse suggests. The severe business risks of a health crisis have been demonstrated recently and a climate crisis carries those same risks. It needs to be made clear that climate action is what the UK wants.

It is time to treat the climate crisis as a crisis and change our way of working for good. For the greater good.

Immediate Action Points Following COVID-19

· Continuing the Embrace of Flexible Working

Promote working from home and digital meetings wherever they are possible and effective

· Chain Responsibility

Review your suppliers and contractors. What do they do to minimise their environmental impact?

· Transport

How do people travel to your office? Do you promote the use of public transport? Is it easy to cycle and walk to the office?

· Communicate

Make clear that your company wants climate action.