Sustainability in the time of Covid-19

By guest writer, Gareth Kane, managing director of Terra Infirma

There can be few people who haven’t wondered what the world will be like post Covid-19. This has become all too clear as we emerge blinking into the sunlight, taking our first tentative steps into some of the public spaces which have been blocked to us for months. Unfortunately, it is not over and is unlikely to be for some time – it’s still a world of social distancing, face masks and complex travel restrictions.

It is also a world of flexible working, of teleconferencing and cycling, a triad that, if sustained, could lead to an end to the stress of daily commuting, create more convivial neighbourhoods and boost local shops and services. Imagine neighbourhoods worthy of the name, where we talk to our neighbours, where crime falls as there are more people about and where the air is cleaner.

So, if that vision is so nice, why did it take a freak virus to make it happen? Well, as a species, we are creatures of habit – fearing the unknown evolved as a basic survival strategy. This instinct makes any radical change difficult as we all tend to play down benefits and exaggerate the risks of anything new which appears before us. What the Covid crisis has done is force us to embrace new things and now almost everybody has Zoom or Teams for anything from business meetings through to Zumba lessons and pub quizzes.

This intensive and extensive hands-on experience of new ways of operating, is invaluable to those of us trying to facilitate a sustainable future. There is a massive opportunity here for organisations to deliver on their sustainability commitments, if they act now.

Some measures are zero cost, such as persuading key individuals to continue calling virtual meetings and revising policies on business travel. Others will require investment, such as installing secure cycle storage, showers and lockers. A third set of opportunities are client-facing and will require careful testing and development before they can be mainstreamed.

I’ve been along this journey myself. I have used teleconferencing platforms such as Webex and, more recently, Zoom for meetings and training sessions for the best part of a decade. However, most of my consultancy is workshop-based and I had never even considered running a workshop online before the lockdown forced me to. It took a bit of trial and error (at one point I hosted a dry run where all the participants were my children’s soft toys – using cutting-edge technology to converse with an angry bird and a threadbare koala was one of the more surreal experiences in my life) but I got there and now I have demonstrated to myself that I can deliver my services anywhere in the world, without leaving my desk.

So, I would advise any organisation trying to cut their environmental footprint, start thinking how they can create a new normal post Covid, rather than letting the opportunity dissipate. It’s amazing what we can achieve with a little ingenuity (and the occasional teddy bear).