| Harvey Laud

Circularity in a post-pandemic world: An opportunity worth seizing

The global response to Covid-19 has shown what the human race is capable of achieving in short space of time when faced with disaster. Globally, governments have intervened at a pace and scale previously thought impossible.

Maybe this decisive action should provide hope in our ability to address the challenges of climate change and resource scarcity. Is it possible that the environment may become one of the few beneficiaries of this tragic human disaster? And has our response to the pandemic triggered changes in behaviour that, if maintained, will help create a more sustainable planet?

Certainly, some of the immediate lifestyle changes triggered by this crisis have had a positive environmental impact. Reduced travel has cut emissions and the closure of non-essential retail has forced a reduction in peoples’ discretionary consumption. While it has been heartening to see how quickly we have adapted, time will tell whether we can continue these trends post-pandemic. Will we maintain our use of technology as an alternative to business travel, for example? Is it possible that we will continue to embrace more sustainable lifestyles where we are prepared to repair and reuse goods, not just consume and dispose?

In addition to highlighting the challenges related to our unsustainable levels of consumption, Covid-19 has also exposed the fragility of supply chains across many industry sectors along with the importance of globalisation. Our ability to optimise the commercial, environmental and social value of secondary resources will therefore play an important role in building sustainable and resilient supply chains for the future.

The potential environmental improvements resulting from Covid-19 serve to ratify closed-loop models and the benefits of a more circular economy. Indeed, the commercial benefits of increased secondary resource utilisation will be more important than ever as we face a period of prolonged economic difficulty. For many businesses, the potential cost savings and stability of supply realised by secondary resources will be vital in creating a more viable model for the future. The ethos of utilisation, rather than ownership and consumption, will have been appreciated and experienced by everyone during these difficult times. Everything from office buildings standing empty whilst the business continues to trade, to cars sitting unused on driveways, reinforce the principle that resources can be used more effectively when shared. Resource utilisation is far more efficient when it is not based on ownership and consumption but rather on moderated utilisation and availability when a product is needed.

The environmental impact of Covid-19 is something we will only truly understand in time. But it is beholden upon those of us working in the sustainability and resource efficiency space to harness and maintain some of the positives that we have experienced. For the majority of us, the main challenges of the pandemic have been social and have not resulted from limited availability of products or travel. Let’s hope we can harness this ability to work across political, social and geographical spheres to protect our planet before it’s too late.