You’ve probably read countless articles and blogs based on the “new normal” as we head into the 7th month of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 is still sweeping the globe this September, as persistent as ever, and disrupting regular life in a multitude of ways. Globally, many businesses remain closed, hotels and Airbnb’s empty of tourists, and white collar workers operating remotely. Essential workers, while still active (thank you for your service), are adjusting to the new realities of social distancing from co-workers and customers, temperature checks, wearing masks, and extreme sanitization requirements...
Although the outbreak will eventually slow down, it is unlikely that we will ever return to the way things were, but instead have to forge ahead to create a new reality. But where exactly are we headed? We explore 4 key trends that are here to stay.
Working from Home
To decrease likelihood of infection in office spaces, corporations across the globe transitioned their employees to remote work, meaning that employees were, and probably still are, working from home. No longer expected to commute, whether by public transportation or car, global emissions plunged drastically from April onwards. While some employees are gradually returning to their offices, many companies have decided to operate completely remotely from here on out!
Employees at Google and Facebook will be working from home for the rest of the year while Twitter employees are transitioning to remote work - forever. Mind you, the Capture team has always operated remotely, with our employees based in Pakistan, Lebanon, England, Germany, Singapore, and the USA (are we showing off about our low emissions thus far as a company? A little bit!)
According to a study in the journal Nature Climate Change published in May, 2 months into the pandemic, there had already been a temporary drop in CO2 emissions. While more data will emerge later on in the year, it can be concluded that daily global CO2 emissions decreased by -17% by early April 2020 compared with the mean 2019 levels. At their peak, emissions in individual countries decreased by -26% on average. However… “The fall in emissions we experienced during COVID-19 is temporary, and therefore it will do nothing to slow down climate change,” says Corinne Le Quéré, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. But how governments respond could be “a turning point if they focus on a green recovery, helping to avoid severe impacts from climate change.”
With working from home becoming mainstream, it may be a difficult habit to reverse. It will depend on a company’s long-term strategy and whether or not the WFH lifestyle is conducive with success and productivity at said company. Not all workers have enjoyed remote work, with many facing the problem of not being able to separate their home life, from their work life, when they’ve been merged into one. However, if corporations have invested time and funds into transitioning the company to remote work, it may be considered a wasted effort if they simply bring employees back to the office.
The question of remote work being more sustainable can also be raised. While it is the common belief that taking a commute out of the equation will reduce overall emissions, there are emissions produced while heating or cooling the home of a remote worker to consider. Research from WSP UK, a London-based consulting firm specialising in engineering, shows that remote work in the UK may only be more environmentally friendly in the summer. In analysing the carbon output of 200 UK-based workers across different locations, researchers found that the environmental impact of heating their homes was higher in the winter due to the need to heat individual workers’ buildings instead of just one building. However, if workers are able to heat their homes with renewable energies, their environmental impact is reduced.
“Energy management in buildings is generally more sophisticated than at individual homes,” says David Symons, Future Ready Lead and Director of Sustainability at WSP UK. Because each individual remote worker keeps the heating on and tends to heat the entire house, working in a single office building ends up having a lower impact – even with the commute added in. Hot water bottle or a personal fan anyone?!
If the future of remote white collar work is to be remote, the obvious next step is to work towards heating residential homes with renewable energies so as to make remote work TRULY sustainable!
Our prediction: Many employees will create a hybrid work situation, in which they work remotely a few days a week, and be present in the office for the remaining days. There is a strong possibility that many companies, if seeing that the WFH style works for their long-term strategy, will permanently implement remote working.
Flights on flights on flights
Another contributing factor to the drop in CO2 emissions was a huge decrease in air travel, as countries closed their borders and governments forbade citizens from air travel to limit spread. The airline industry is one of the hardest hit, suffering immense financial losses. In late 2019, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) published its “Economic Performance of the Airline Industry” report, which contained a 2020 forecast of 4.1% growth in global air traffic demand. Fast forward to summer 2020, and the IATA has some very different predictions--the worst financial performance in the history of commercial aviation, predicting a global loss of US$84 billion.
As countries tentatively re-opened their borders over the summer, there was a slight increase in air travel, but certainly not enough for airlines and aerospace manufacturers to make up for their financial losses. Naturally, airlines have implemented strict safety and sanitization measures for people flying, e.g. masks and face shields. There is also the idea of leaving middle seats empty between passengers, so as to keep a distance while people are confined in an indoor space, but airline executives have predicted a dire financial impact from this attempt to ease crowding on airliners.
A growing number of countries have carved out ‘travel bubbles’ as a way to jumpstart air travel and tourism. Countries can make agreements with neighboring regions to allow for travel across borders for non-essential trips without quarantine on arrival. However, this will always depend on numbers and whether or not certain countries have had recent surges in cases. For example, before July, people were allowed to travel from Lebanon to Greece, because Lebanon’s cases remained low. As soon as there was an uptick, Greece closed their borders to anyone traveling to Lebanon.
Oh, yes...we almost forgot about the latest “flights to nowhere” craze. In a desperate attempt to stimulate the industry, airlines are offering quick sightseeing flights for frequent flyers who miss getting on planes (we can’t quite say we miss turbulence, plane food, queues and a sense of emissions guilt, but hey!). Qantas Airlines, joining Singapore Air and Taiwan’s EVA airways, is the latest corporation to consider offering this. The Qantas flight, in a Boeing Co 787 typically used for long-haul international journeys, will fly at low levels over Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney Harbour before landing back in Sydney. Tickets cost between A$787 and A$3,787 ($575 and $2,765) depending on the seating class and the 134 available seats were quickly snapped up, a Qantas spokeswoman said on Thursday.
Our prediction: Travel bubbles will remain throughout the year, and the travel industry will be slowly rebooted, depending on how the world progresses in containing the virus and producing a vaccine. Sanitation measures will remain, beyond the end of the pandemic, in a similar way to how safety measures were increased after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York occurred. However, the airline industry will continue to struggle because of stagnation, and will likely need many financial bailouts unless a vaccine is introduced. Will the travel and tourism industry survive until then? Yikes, only time will tell...
Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused people to take a few steps backwards in terms of single-use plastic usage. Single-use plastics, including surgical masks, plastic cups, and sanitiser products have been vital in supporting society during COVID-19. Thailand's Environment Institute reported plastic waste has increased during COVID-19, owing to soaring home deliveries of food. As global health organisations warned people about contaminated surfaces, people leaned towards single use plastics instead of reusables, in an attempt to avoid possible infection.
In China, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment estimates that hospitals in Wuhan produced more than 240 tons of waste daily at the height of the outbreak, compared with 40 tons during normal times. Based on these data, the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan predicts that the United States could generate an entire year’s worth of medical waste in just two months because of COVID-19.
A similar uptick in waste can be seen among ordinary citizens. In China, daily production of face masks soared to 116 million in February, 12 times higher than the previous month. Hundreds of tons of discarded masks were being collected daily from public bins alone during the outbreak’s peak; there is no telling how many more were being discarded in household waste systems. According to the Thailand Environment Institute, plastic waste has increased from 1,500 tons to 6,300 tons per day, owing to soaring home deliveries of food.
Our prediction: Hopefully, there won’t be a complete regression to using single-use plastics as the pandemic rages on...and corporations, specifically food service ones, smarten up to the fact that they can still use reusable products when serving consumers. For example, Victorians in Australia can order delivery take-away food in reusable containers, thanks to a partnership between Deliveroo and Returnr, the reusable packaging scheme.
It is still possible to avoid unnecessary single-use plastic… we just need to get creative and focus on items within our control for now. We can still use reusable grocery bags and brew coffee for our reusable coffee mugs! Consider swapping your plastic bottled fabric conditioner and detergent for a more eco-friendly alternative, and so on.
The world is on fire
On top of a pandemic, wildfire season was particularly harsh this year, with Northern California, Lebanon, and Syria experiencing an unprecedented number of wildfires. In September 2020, continuous rainfall in Sudan caused a flood at least 16 Sudanese states with the Blue Nile reaching water levels not seen for nearly a century, and has been recorded as among the most severe floods recorded in the region. A state of emergency was declared, and has affected more than 500,000 people, destroyed 100,000 homes, and left 102 people dead to date. There have been 3 named storms in the Atlantic through Sept. 21. Several Atlantic records have already been set because of how active it has been. Clearly, the climate crisis is worsening at a rapid rate.
However, there is increasingly more consumer awareness of the climate crisis, and corporations are responding to apparent consumer demand for sustainably produced and sourced products. Adidas, Google, and Lego are just three corporations that have released bold sustainable corporate initiatives.
Our prediction: More and more corporations will succumb to consumer demand and make the switch to more sustainable alternatives in their supply chain and transition to a planet-friendly workforce. Some positive news, finally!
Basically, the future is nothing like we have ever seen before! Let’s hope the positive changes are here to stay! We’ll check back in with you in a few months and see if any of our predictions have actually come true… Any questions or comments, feel free to join the discussions via our Instagram channel @thecaptureapp or say hi to the team via email at firstname.lastname@example.org