The Coronavirus Pandemic, now well into its third month (depending on where you live), has had large scale devastating effects on the world. Thousands of deaths and the shut-down of industries, and the world has quickly become an unrecognizable place.
In amongst all of the chaos, “good news stories” began to crop up. Canals in Venice were clearer than ever. Wildlife was returning to towns and cities. And whilst some of this was fake news (sorry, no dolphins actually came to Venice), it sparked a much wider debate on how the environment was reacting to this global shutdown. And the fact of the matter is that the environmental impact of Coronavirus has spurred a new conversation about the business sustainability.
A hot topic for businesses big and small over the past few years has been sustainability. With the launch of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in 2016, how Business can be good for the planet has been widely discussed.
Some companies took decisive action early on but for others, a switch to a more sustainable business model seemed far fetched. It would be impossible for everybody to work from home. Business meetings needed to happen in person. Conferences too.
But over the past three months, the impossible has very quickly become possible.
That’s not to say the Coronavirus pandemic has had universally positive effects on the environment.
Alongside reduce carbon emissions there has been an increase in medical waste. As air travel falls more trees are needed to be cut down to produce packaging.
And running a business fully remote may cut down on commuting and therefore pollution, but with more people at home, more electricity and gas is being used to power, heat, and feed your remote workforce. Plus office buildings, even when not being used, don’t automatically stop running. They are instantly repurposed into something else. For many small businesses, this lockdown will have huge costs unrelated to the loss of revenue that may prevent sustainability initiatives from being effective in the future.
Because whilst it’s hard to build a sustainable and environmentally responsible business from the ground up, it’s even harder to suddenly transition a business into a functioning fully remote operation.
So it’s hard to say if businesses will become more sustainable in the long term as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. On one hand, we are in the midst of proving the impossible possible in terms of reducing air travel, conferences, and commuting. A large scale switch to “out of office” work also means less paper being used on a daily basis. A less “office-centric” work environment is possible.
And on the other hand, remote working doesn’t work for everybody. On a company level and on a personal level. Projects will be moving slower as people find ways to communicate digitally. Innovation that usually occurs on coffee breaks and by chance at the photocopier will be lost. And personally, not everybody has a good home environment in which to work. Not everybody has the luxury of space, both physical and mental, to be as productive at home.
So much like the environmental impact of Coronavirus, things will need to be weighed up taking both the good and the bad into account.