The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on the global economy, with an economic fallout worse than during the 2008 financial crisis, according to the IMF. We’re also seeing a rapid change in people’s working patterns, with millions of employees forced to work from home, and our reliance on technology is growing because of this shift.
When navigating this crisis, the immediate fallout is, unsurprisingly, negative, but it seems the changes it has brought about have already benefited the environment.
As a result of the coronavirus restrictions imposed on the UK in March, average air pollution levels in some cities have dropped by 60%, according to data from the Defra. The same trend has been observed across the world, with dramatic pollution reductions in China and Italy. Could our planet be the long-term winner from this?
With millions of people around the world forced to leave their offices, Covid-19 is set to change the way we perceive home working and commuting, which could bring about enduring shifts in behaviours.
Previously optional and sometimes even treated with suspicion, remote working is now a widely accepted solution, providing a great opportunity for firms to iron out any inefficiencies and emerge from the crisis more open to the regular practice of working from home.
Furthermore, we are likely to see an increase in fragmentation within the office sector, both to ensure employee safety and from a business continuity perspective.
Large centralised headquarters are likely to be re-evaluated, and this has the potential to regionalise flexible spaces. This would make it easier for users to cycle or walk to work, benefiting the environment.
Should the next pandemic emerge, businesses whose employees are spread across the country will be less vulnerable to disruption than those that keep most of their staff in one central HQ, making the decentralised model far more appealing to risk-averse companies.
For the environment, we are likely to see lower levels of carbon dioxide emissions, with fewer people driving to work on a regular basis. With cars contributing to around a fifth of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions, changing the frequency of intra- and inter-city travel can make a difference and help us get closer to the 2050 target of net-zero emissions.
The health crisis also provides a timely opportunity to re-evaluate the need for business travel. Given that so many face-to-face meetings have migrated to Zoom or Microsoft Teams, it is likely that crisis-stricken companies will be unable to justify expensive work trips abroad, unless essential.
According to data from the International Council on Clean Transportation, greenhouse gas emissions increased by 32% over the five years pre-Covid-19, despite environmental problems dominating the news agenda. The coronavirus restrictions could be a wake-up call for some, forcing them to review habits and processes.
We will probably never return to normality as we knew it before this pandemic. However, this hiatus is an opportunity for companies to adjust the way they operate, which could ultimately lead to a healthier and cleaner future for us all.
Eugene Tavyev is founder of Spacepool