The coronavirus situation in the UK develops constantly, with daily updates as experts learn more. The UK does not yet have a clear exit strategy, nor a successful vaccine. Some experts predict periods of social distancing for months.
With so much uncertainty, it’s impossible to say how much normalcy will resume, and when. We’re sure many of us have wished for things to “go back to normal” at one time or another. But the world cannot go back to how it was before coronavirus: our habits and attitudes certainly weren’t ‘normal’. Our throwaway culture and casual approach to fossil fuels were incredibly unnatural, harming ourselves and the planet.
The current lockdown has paused many of these dangerous practices, accompanied by improvements in air quality and a reduction in C02 emissions. It’s likely these figures will bounce back to normal levels when lockdown ends. But, this period of pause is encouraging people to create new, environmentally friendly habits that we hope will continue after coronavirus. Scientists are hopeful, too; research shows that times of change are powerful opportunities for encouraging new behaviours.
We must reject this preoccupation with life returning to ‘normal’. In order to overcome climate change, we must create a new normal that prioritises the health of the planet and its inhabitants. In this article, we’ll explore what that new normal could look like across sectors.
A transport revolution?
Passenger cars are responsible for 60.7% of C02 emissions in the EU, with the average new car emitting 120g of C02 per KM. Currently, there are very few reasons for travelling anywhere: to work, to buy groceries and supplies, and for medical reasons. Traffic levels haven’t been this low since 1955. As a result, roads and streets are quiet, and the air is clean.
With all-but-essential car travel discouraged, people have realised that they can make a lot more journeys on foot. More people are walking around their local neighbourhood for leisure and exercise, often combining this with a stop in their local grocery store.
We hope that after lockdown, people will continue to be more conscious and considerate about their car usage and C02 output. It’s encouraging to see that some steps are already being taken to make this happen. For example, Milan plans to implement a low carbon city centre infrastructure, by turning 35km of streets into cycle and pedestrian lanes.
Early research also suggests that the quiet, pollution-free streets are encouraging consumers to consider electric vehicles. In a survey by Venson, 45% of people said the improvement in air quality has made them positively reconsider their EV ownership plans. A further 17% said it reaffirmed the decision they had already made to make the switch to an EV. With consumer attitudes to EVs improving, this could increase the adoption of commercial and fleet EVs too.
Oil vs renewables
We think the many parallels between climate change and coronavirus will encourage more businesses to explore renewable energy, as this is one of the easiest ways for them to act against climate change.
For businesses with the capital to invest, solar PV provides the best long-term financial savings. The economic future of the UK remains uncertain, so investing in solar allows businesses to reduce their energy overheads and improve profit margins. Businesses unable to commit to their own array can still cut their energy spend with cheaper-than-grid energy through a Power Purchase Agreement.
The current state of the oil market also raises questions about the future of fuel post-coronavirus. With decreased demand due to paused manufacture and airline operations, oil is at its lowest price for two decades. While some experts believe that oil demand has now peaked and will start to decline, others believe that dirt-cheap oil prices will hinder the adoption of renewables.
The crash in oil price has highlighted its extreme volatility, and raises questions as to whether the global economy should be underpinned by a single commodity (or any commodity for that matter). In our opinion, it would be much better to build a sustainable green economy that relies on multiple diverse technologies and industry sectors working together, mitigating the risk of any one industry crashing.
The future of work
Due to the lockdown, remote working is now a normal practice for many businesses. While we don’t think the workforce will go fully remote post-lockdown, we think flexibility will be encouraged. The coronavirus lockdown has shown that you just don’t need to be face-to-face to do business. Travelling for meetings creates unnecessary time burdens and C02 miles.
A study by Regus suggests that working closer to our homes could save 7.8 million tonnes of C02 per year by 2030, and save 115 million hours of commuting time. Plus, employees that can work flexibly are happier, healthier, and more productive.
This embrace of remote work will continue across sectors. The Guardian predicts GP surgeries will continue to offer remote appointments after coronavirus, but why stop there? Perhaps your next appointment with your solicitor, accountant, or bank will be a virtual one.
Food and shopping
With the government advising to only buy essentials, shoppers are forced to consider what the essentials actually are. With most high street stores closed, people can’t pop to the shops for a bit of retail therapy. Good news, since the UK’s obsession with throwaway ‘fast fashion’ usually costs 50 tonnes of C02 every minute. However, old habits die hard; March 2020 saw a 74% increase in online shopping, as people purchase items to keep themselves entertained in lockdown.
After an initial wave of panic buying, the UK’s food shopping habits have adapted during the coronavirus pandemic. With most supermarkets prioritising vulnerable customers for delivery slots, the rest of us must venture instore for our essentials. As a result, we’re seeing a boom in popularity for food subscription services like Gousto and Hello Fresh, as well as deliveries of locally-grown seasonal veg as shoppers do their best to stay home. There has also been an increase in people shopping in local corner shops, and a general desire to support small and independent businesses.
Going forward, we hope this shift in our shopping habits proves to be a long-term change. Shopping locally, only buying the essentials, and making more conscious purchases are all vital steps in the fight against climate change.
Healthy planet, healthy people
While the above changes offer a crucial lifeline for our planet, they can also aid our own health, too. The coronavirus pandemic is a trying situation for many and has greatly raised awareness about the importance of mental health as part of our overall wellbeing. Going for a walk is now a part of everybody’s daily routine, and the effect lockdown has on mental health is a large part of the coronavirus conversation.
Climate change is a mammoth challenge, and shopping more locally for a few months won’t turn it around. We need a sustained change in consumer habits, led by climate-friendly policy. Consumers want green options, so the government needs to encourage businesses to provide them. The coronavirus pandemic has shown that, given the right encouragement, the public is willing to adapt their behaviour to safeguard public health and the economy. Led by the right examples and systems, there’s no reason why the British public can’t come together in the same way to take action on climate change. What a welcome thought.