Even while we are wrestling with the immediate and unfolding tragedy and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are necessarily turning our minds to what is next. What will life be like in the next few weeks and months and even in the years to come?
Whatever was normal before 2020 is unlikely to ever be so again. We are creating a new normal, following the science, guidelines and also our intuition. We can see, and have painfully witnessed first-hand, the value of planning for different eventualities and of being prepared.
It is incumbent on all of us to consider what is next and what role we can play in adapting to a new normal. Aristotle said: ‘It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light’. In these darkest of times, we must focus on what we can do to create a new normal that delivers a better, healthier, safer, more sustainable society and planet. It is a certainty that civilisation depends upon it.
Arguably, we have never had civilisation so engaged in a single issue as the Covid-19 pandemic. We have never seen such a rapid and dramatic shift in our societies around the world. For many this has meant a radical change in the way we live.
As the lockdown in the UK begins to lift, and alongside other countries, we will transition into a new normal. We are still struggling to understand what that new normal is going to be. It could be that the new normal may not be steady, it may be dynamic and may require us to constantly adapt to change. Those changes could be as profound as our experience of this pandemic.
But one thing is certain, the new normal is ours to create. And we are creating it right now. This is our opportunity to come together and create a better way of living. You could say it is our responsibility to do so.
We remain in a deep climate crisis whose effects will continue to unfold and be felt by communities around the world, from increasingly volatile weather events and their impacts, from fires and droughts to flooding. We are also contending with the collapse of many eco-systems and biodiversity destruction, which will inevitably lead to crises around food, access to clean water and air. Nature is in crisis and, therefore, so are we.
This is certainly a seminal and historical moment in time. 2020-2030 was already identified as the Decade of Action, a period when we would need to take decisive action to tackle climate change, limit global heating to 1.5C and to halt and reverse biodiversity loss.
Amongst many millions of others around the world, we were raising our game to be at our best in this decisive decade. And then we had the Covid-19 crisis.
As we all do our bit to tackle this crisis, we are learning more about what we value in society. We are indebted to all essential workers and industries who are our frontline and the supply chain that supports them. We are protecting the most vulnerable and changing the way we live to help others.
We have created new funding mechanisms to get money to those people who need it most, to provide them with food and shelter, to help people continue to live in their homes and remove uncertainty of how to pay their bills. It is not perfect by any means, but it shows what can be done to protect people and keep them safe.
We have adopted new technologies to work from home, to keep our institutions moving and our economy from collapsing. At the same time, we are living in enforced separation from loved ones, friends and families, some of whom have been taken from us in the most tragic circumstances.
There is an innate need for humans, us, to interact, to connect and come together for the greater good. We have chosen as a society to make deep sacrifices to protect each other. It shows what we can do.
Perhaps for many of us, it is changing our views on what we value, be it being with friends and family to our relationship with nature. We read so often about our need to be in parks and nature (just to lie on some grass!), how bird song brings joy, how we appreciate cleaner air, the peace that quieter roads and skies bring to us. Has the Covid-19 crisis reminded us how we need and value nature?
Society has changed as a result of this crisis, forever. If we act now, the nature could also change forever. Both are in the balance. It is our time to plan, prepare and change them for the better. And we have a perfect opportunity to do so.
It is almost certain that economies around the world will go into a recession, perhaps even a depression, for which there is no precedent. The Covid-19 crisis is entirely different from the structural issues in the 2008 financial crash and the 2011 Eurozone crisis. PWC has forecast a 7% contraction in the EU economy and similar for the UK. It has highlighted sectors such as hospitality, tourism, travel and leisure contracting by 14% – 37%, so some sectors and countries may be hit harder.
Plans are already underway about how we minimise the damage of this recession as they wreak havoc on society. Like Covid-19, recessions have a devastating and far reaching impact. So how do we navigate through what appears to be a perfect storm of challenges to our economy, society and environment?
There is a risk that, in their haste to kickstart their economies post-Covid-19, governments might fall into a default of investing and providing stimulus to traditional sectors and companies, the usual suspects of big corporations and organisations with a history of polluting and of embedded fossil fuels.
There could be a watering-down of environmental standards, any carbon savings made through the Covid-19 crisis would be eradicated and our new-found habits of reducing travel and respect for nature lost in a drive for a business as usual economy. If the economic recovery package is misdirected and misspent, we will adopt the old normal and we will head into an irrevocable climate crisis.
Alternatively, we learn from what we are experiencing and use this moment to reset society and make it more resilient to this and future crises. We can do this by using the re-building of our economy to ensure that it works for society and the environment. Put simply, we build a new normal that is better.
This is the momentum that is building behind the new economy, also known as the regenerative economy, that is growing globally. In the UK, the call to ‘prioritise the green economy’ is being made by CEOs of leading brands, businesses, institutions and government advisers.
The recent Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment (SSEE) report, has set out 700 fiscal policy initiatives that can accelerate climate progress, halving our carbon emissions by 2030 whilst rebuilding our economy and making society more resilient. We will create millions of jobs in the short term and set our trajectory for zero carbon in the process. It is an exciting proposition.
The new economy is focused on ensuring that organisations balance the three pillars of sustainability, that is economic, environmental and social impacts. It means that investment would be directed to rebuild the economy, reduce environmental impacts and deliver net positive contributions to society.
Driving the new economy would use this moment to identify and invest into organisations, industries and sectors that will enable our transition into a more sustainable, zero carbon world. In this crisis we are seeing the institutions, organisations and brands upon whom we can trust to deliver public good. They are the ones contributing value to society in these challenging times.
We often quote Mark Carney, the former Governor of the Bank of England. In his new role at the UN he had this to say about this unique chance to create a better society: “Value will change in the post-Covid-19 world. On one level, that’s obvious: valuations in global financial markets have imploded, with many suffering their sharpest declines in decades. More fundamentally, the traditional drivers of value have been shaken, new ones will gain prominence, and there’s a possibility that the gulf between what markets value and what people value will close.”
The new economy builds-in the value of people and the planet as well as profit. And it is already here. We see it in the greening of our grid electricity, in the exponential investment and growth of electric vehicles and infrastructure. We see purpose-led brands outperforming their competition on the stock markets, in the voluntary adoption of sustainability in our small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and in the rise and rise of social enterprises.
The SSEE report identified five policy items to achieve economic and climate goals:
- Clean physical infrastructure investment
- Building efficiency retrofits
- Investment in education and training to address immediate unemployment from Covid-19 and structural unemployment from decarbonisation
- Natural capital investment for ecosystem resilience and regeneration
- Clean R&D investment
All our investment should be directed into an economy that helps us tackle the issues of our time, and this is where we must all work together. Institutions are convening spaces for this movement, however, some of those are facing a crisis of trust – especially in government and politics and the media. This is a place where organisations, businesses and brands can step in to provide support. This is our space and our time to make change happen.
You could be in one such organisation, and you can choose to be part of this movement by adding your support and your voice here. Committing your organisation to the Decade of Action and putting sustainability at the heart of your brand and your purpose will encourage others to follow. This collective action will help more binding commitments at the postponed COP26 in 2021.
And you can take simple steps immediately such as committing to measure and reduce your carbon emissions, switching to renewable energy, to procure only from those organisations who align with your values. The list is actually endless, but here are some ideas from The Planet Mark. They are all actions that are good for your business, your people and our planet.
The much-loved Sir David Attenborough famously said: “Humans are great problem solvers. We need to imagine a better future and work to create it”. Perhaps that is our challenge, to work together. It is a time to tear down barriers and to collaborate.
Never before have we had civilisation so engaged or had our society and economy so profoundly challenged. In this period of unprecedented change and trauma, we have an opportunity to change the way we live and create a better future.
In 1968, Robert Kennedy said: “GDP counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage… It counts jails, napalm, nuclear warheads, and the loss of natural wonder in chaotic sprawl… Yet, it does not pay attention to the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play… It measures everything in short — except that which makes life worthwhile.“ 50-years later we have a chance to create a new measurement of success that puts nature, the environment and society at the centre of what we do – to make life worthwhile.
This is a historical moment in time. What we do now will shape our present and our future, for our world and our civilisation. It is in the balance and it is in our hands. This is our moment, let us collaborate. Together, we can create a better more sustainable world for us, our future generations and fellow passengers on planet earth.
Steve Malkin, Founder of The Planet Mark