Pausing for thought this World Environment Day in lockdown By James Cadman

Friday 5th June is World Environment Day, an annual event that’s been going since 1974, but it stands to give me pause for thought on the impact that COVID-19 has had on the environment.

There can’t be anyone who hasn’t noticed the changes to the natural world around us during lockdown. Less noise and cleaner air due to less traffic that has resulted in dramatic views that haven’t been seen in years. Clearer, bluer skies from a reduction in planes and their contrails as people fly less for business or pleasure. And more audible birdsong and wild animals coming into our towns and streets.

These have all been pleasant reminders of the environment we live right next to, and have been a welcome distraction from the problems of COVID-19.

Less visible but just as important, are the stats on the reduction in global carbon emissions during the pandemic. Measurements show they have gone down by some fairly sizeable levels because factories, shops, construction sites and travel have all been restricted globally. Reductions were as high as 26% at their peak. The overall impact on this year’s emissions will be a reduction of between 4% and 7% compared to the previous year, depending on the duration of the lockdown conditions.

This is significant for the reason that it has been calculated that we need to cut global emissions by 7.6% every year until 2030 if we have a chance of meeting the Paris Climate Agreement’s target to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

So by this, we have to engineer the same level of reduction in emissions in ‘normal’ post-COVID circumstances, that we’ve experienced in the last few months, by significantly altering the way we live and work during the next decade.

So how do we keep emissions down post-lockdown?

Yes, as we slowly come out of lockdown these emissions are rising again. But they have given us a glimpse of how the world could be if we take our impact on the environment more seriously and make the decisions to accelerate the shift to a low impact, low carbon society and economy.

This is not about draconian measures to restrict travel, or to lower economic output and take us back to a ‘simpler’ time. It’s about supporting a vibrant, greener and fairer economy.

Governments and business the world over are being urged to seize the chance that coming out of lockdown gives as the opportunity to invest in a greener future. The hashtag #BuildBackBetter has been circulating widely as a clear response to COVID-19 and climate change. Many organisations have already taken the initiative and published ‘Green Deals’ to reinvigorate the economy but with a more sustainable and inclusive sense of purpose. The EU’s Green Deal is one such approach.

Who’s going to own the change?

It’s not just up to national administrations and multinationals to make the change – we all can.

Whatever organisation you work for, you can look at how you do business through the lens of sustainability, and carbon, in particular. Take stock of how you’ve had to adapt to lockdown – homeworking and virtual meetings leading to lower travel emissions, for instance – and how you can maintain these as lockdown eases.

More widely, take a closer look at where you use energy the most – where are your carbon hotspots?

Do you have a plan to reduce your carbon emissions based on the carbon hierarchy of avoid > reduce > switch > compensate?

Is it possible to use less energy overall through a different business or delivery model?

Where can you be more efficient with the energy and products you consume?

Can you design and procure lower carbon materials and products or switch to zero carbon sources of energy, such as on-site renewables and electric vehicles?

Finally, when you have done all you can to avoid, reduce and switch to lower carbon, have you thought about offsetting what is left?

If you’re interested in how to take this forward, the Supply Chain Sustainability School has a wealth of carbon resources and learning materials to inspire you to reduce you carbon.

And you can use them in your personal life, too!


Learn more on environmental impact

James Cadman

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Contact Dr James Cadman
Lead Consultant

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