Could Covid-19 make us live more sustainably?

by Ritika Wattan

April 6, 2020, 6:46 p.m.

As we all are going through what are perhaps, one of the most trying times as a ‘global community’ - and I use that phrase carefully as hardly has there ever been something that has united people across the globe in decades – I can’t help but think about this in a larger, almost philosophical context.

When I see friends and family going through trying times, and I hear about individuals (which whilst I might not know personally, but are now familiar faces as unfortunate victims of this pandemic) for example, the young Chinese (Wuhan) medic who first discovered what this disease was capable of eventually being one of its first victim’s , or the first NHS GP casualty, or even the scores of frontline medical line staff bearing the brunt of this monstrosity , its hard to see anything positive in what’s going on around.

However, I am now beginning to see this as a much more profound change, a rebalancing act, a shift of power, cruel as it may be, but transformational to us as individuals, families, as a community and as a species. It is a way of nature reasserting itself to remind us who is still in charge by making us all stop and think.

In a matter of weeks, it has altered how we work, how we use our time, how we connect with our families and friends, how we buy, where we buy from and even what we buy! It is a change that will help us distinguish between things that truly matter and those that don’t.

I can see the change all around me, especially in how we manage our day to day life.

Living in a country where for most people , throwing food that’s over its ‘due by’ date contributes to 2m tonnes of food wasted every year; where we hardly spare a thought about where the food has come from, contributing tonnes of CO2 just to ensure that we have all produce available round the year, seasonal or not ! As an example, a 100g box of blueberries grown locally or imported via ship will produce around 100g of carbon dioxide. If it’s flown in, that increases by ten times, pushing its carbon footprint up to more like 1kg.

When your online grocery app tells you are ‘14538th’ in the queue to place an order which will be delivered (if you are lucky) after 2.5 weeks, you do start to think about ensuring that you are going to all do that you can ( even if its as simple as ensuring that you will only cook as much as can be consumed and be sure to check the use by date) to ensure that none of it is going to end up in the bin ! You also start wondering why you never considered buying seasonal and unpackaged produce from your local farm / village shop which was always there as a much more sustainable and sensible solution.

It is interesting how within weeks, given the inability to go out and buy things at the click of a mouse, I have managed to resort to changes that might be trivial but could add up to something significant a case in point being reams of kitchen towels with a humble kitchen cloth ! It couldn’t quite believe it when I read some facts about ‘paper towels’ , banal as it may sound – paper towels cannot be recycled , decomposing paper hand towels adds to global warming and unbelievable as it may sound , manufacturing 1 ton of paper towel requires cutting down 17 trees and 20,000 gallons of water to be consumed or polluted !

The change at work has obviously been far from trivial; whilst the use of technology to facilitate collaboration has now been there for quite a few years, this has perhaps made us all realise how overrated travelling especially for that ‘all important meeting’ is. Real collaboration and camaraderie can just as well be struck using all the marvellous technology options available , I am sure all of us by now have examples of virtual coffee and lunch catch ups with colleagues and clients , not to mention the ‘team conference calls’ with interesting themes such as ‘wear your favourite cap’ or ‘decorate your face’ 😉 !

By now, we all have examples of changes we have been forced to make, and whilst they may appear to be adjustments we are making to our day to day lives simply to just get by during these times of crises, is this an opportunity to make some of these changes stick ? Is this an event which in its aftermath might just make us more sustainable, connected and grateful individuals? What’s your Covid-19 take ?