COVID-19  •  Companies news

How could this crisis pave the way for more sustainability?

The global crisis we are currently going through has shown how radically societies and individuals were responding to an immediate threat when health (and finances) were impacted.

As a consequence, several nations such as China and other Asian countries were able to flatten the curve of the pandemic in a matter of weeks. What this situation is teaching us is that when fear is triggered, our societies are able to muster resources and organize to ensure things go back to normal as soon as possible. Yet, in such an unprecedented crisis, what can the reaction to this pandemic teach us about how humans respond to other unseen global threats, such as climate change? In that sense, how could COVID-19 lead us to a more sustainable world?

"Things take longer to happen than you think they will, but then they happen much faster than you thought they could." Al Gore

As a result of strict policies all around the world, more than 4 billion people are currently locked down globally, more than half the world population. One of the most obvious consequences of such drastic policies has been the sudden and tremendous decrease of greenhouse gases, first in China and as the pandemic spread to Europe and the rest of the world we’ve not only seen nature claim its rights back in harbors and downtowns, but we’ve also witnessed the drop in pollution in India, in Europe or in the USA. Even Los Angeles' infamous smog has disappeared !


In China, pollution kills silently an estimated 2 to 3 million people every year. Despite the increase in coal in the last days, pollution has shrunk by 20 to 30% since the beginning of the year. And even though the virus claimed several thousand lives, how many were saved thanks to the pollution drop?


According to UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), global greenhouse gas emissions need to fall by 7.6% each year between 2020 and 2030. Could this crisis take us further on track than we would have imagined just a few weeks back?


We will tell you why we think so.

  • Politicians are finally starting to listen to scientists
  • Our financial resources are (almost) limitless
  • Our recent changes might remain
  • What kind of world can we expect after the crisis? Beware of black swans


1.Politicians are finally starting to listen to scientists

“Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.”  G. Michael Hopf

Despite some rightful criticism, governments have proven their ability to abide by science and take firm commitments, showing they could neglect economic growth vis-a-vis health and safety in a matter of days, if not hours.

In developed countries, these protective measures have been globally well accepted and deemed relatively fair for everyone (young and old, men and women, rich or poor). In France, 93% of the population approves the lockdown and 85% think it should have been decided earlier.

Thus, in the words of Hopf, these measures might have taken us from good to hard times. Will it make us strong enough to take the measures we need to tackle climate change? Time will tell.


2. Our resources are (almost) limitless

  • Financially

“They didn’t know it was impossible, so they did it” Mark Twain

With the ECB putting 870 billion euros on the table (120 billion euros on the 12th of March and 750 billion one week later - 1,350 billion SGD in total), we have seen that a very high amount of money can be raised almost instantly. In terms of climate change, the European Bank of Investment expects to raise 1,000 billion over 10 years to finance projects for the planet. It would be very close to this, but over a much longer time.

On their side, the USA secured 2,300 billion USD (3,260 billion SGD). So we know that we can have the money, and, as it seems endless. Can it be even higher for a problem that scientists are already saying it’ll be even bigger?


  • Businesswise

“Think “how we will change to get through this” rather than “how we will get through this” Simon Sinek

Just like the Great Depression led to inventions such as discount supermarkets, electric razors and chocolate chip cookies, the previous crises have taught us that the organisations who survive such periods are the ones who are able to adapt their business model and production modes.


  • Short term

As we faced a lack of basic health supplies, some of the biggest companies in the world understood this perfectly and have already started to adapt their process line to provide relief to hospitals and the critically ill.

Several companies have been newly manufacturing hand disinfectant gel to support the need and increase the offer on the market. LVMH or Pernod-Ricard (alcoholic beverages) were amongst the first movers and many beauty companies such as L’Oreal, La Roche-Posay, or Firmenich switched their production to hydroalcoholic gels. Decathlon has been working with a Rome-based research institute and using 3D printing to redesign the breathing line of the product to convert its snorkelling masks into much needed ventilator alternatives for hospitals around the country. Nike, Under Armour and New Balance along with many other companies, have also been developing masks to respond to the high demand.


  • Long term

As Simon Sinek says: “We are not in unprecedented times”. Why? Because like many companies before, we need to quickly adapt ourselves. When the internet arrived, many companies had to pivot and pick up the slack. When Uber came on the market, many taxi companies had to change their service. When Netflix scaled up, many video stores closed down, just like Amazon led to the closing of bookstores. Business models need to evolve, and businesses will need a sense of purpose to make a difference.

Thus, in the mid to long term, this situation is still a precious opportunity for companies and a great time to become leaders in sustainable economies as well as a call for low-carbon models. Now is the moment to think about the changes we will need to implement rather than wait until the crisis is over.


3. Changes might remain after the crisis

“Don’t wait. The time will never be just right” Napoleon Hill

We went, in a matter of days, from good to hard times.

We went from freedom to stay home.

We went from going out on weekends to staying home for a movie.

We went from taking time to buy food to rushing before the end of stocks.

We went from looking down while walking in the streets to partying from our balconies.

We went from reaching Godwin's law on social media to laughing at each other's ways to spend time at home.


By taking new habits, by changing our perspective by fear of living this again, several habits won’t be the same:

  • Better tools for better use

As digital tools become more mainstream, we are also faced with limitations that weren’t obvious before, when the number of users was much smaller. As remote work becomes more common and long lasting, with the demand for easy remote work solutions and more diverse options, it is most likely that we see software developers come up with innovative solutions for remote work in a near future.


  • Remote work as the norm.

Since remote work is becoming a new norm in companies, more employees might use this way much more often than before. Business trips might also be reduced and replaced by webinars and online meetings as they are less consuming in time, energy and money.

As a direct consequence, this is very likely to lead to a decrease of greenhouse gases (In the US, almost 30% of CO2 emissions are due to transportation, and 60% are caused by cars, while 10% are caused by planes).


  • Transportation

Most airlines face bankruptcy by the end of May. What solutions will we have then? Fund all companies with citizens' money and carry on with business-as-usual? Nationalise and impose a tax on kerosene? Or leave thousands of people unemployed and airports empty? Airlines have been living in a tax-exemption world on kerosene since the Chicago agreement in 1944. What does it mean?


Is the airline industry somehow responsible for what is happening to them knowing that they haven’t changed their business model in decades?


Some companies were in the same business-as-usual situation and got kicked out by what was, originally, disruptive players. For example, Amazon introduced the kindle e-reader in 2007 while the book industry never thought about it, Apple launched iTunes in 2001 which is something that the music industry didn’t want (but people really did).


  • Technology

Netflix decided to lower the resolution of the videos due to the high emissions and pollution generated by this activity. Netflix does its job right in being accountable for the negative externality it creates and stops the population in its need for more and more and more. Do we really need to watch a movie, a documentary or series in 4K? May we still have a good time with 2K? No doubt we can.

Then, in a similar way, we are all about to get access to 5G, which is 10 to 20 times faster than 4G, enabling us to download a HD movie in a minute. Are we unhappy with 4G? Are we becoming so obsessed with speed that waiting for 15 minutes before downloading a HD movie becomes hell? By the way, we are only talking about phone connectivity here. WIFI already does the job without having us realizing it.


4. What kind of world can we expect after the crisis? Beware of Black swans

We shall be aware that this virus alone can be controlled but a new catastrophe while we are that vulnerable might hit us even stronger. What would happen if a new heat wave occurs again in Europe this summer? What would happen if this canicule creates bushfires? And what if rains don’t stop and floods appear, will the virus spread all over?

We then need to change our way, change our models, adapt our business to stop taking big risks, adapt our business to the demand. The increasing and endless demand for sustainable actions, sustainable solutions, products that respect our environment. That our customers want. That our employees want. That, even our shareholders want. That the young generations want above all. So let’s not be fools. Our societies have all the tools to tackle climate change. It all depends on you, whether you want to follow it or not.

One day, says the legend, there was a huge forest fire. All terrified animals, aghast, watched helplessly the disaster. Only the little hummingbird was active, fetching a few drops with its beak to throw them on the fire. After a while, the armadillo, annoyed by this ridiculous agitation, said to him: "Hummingbird! Aren't you crazy? You are not going to put out the fire with these drops of water!" And the hummingbird replied, "I know it, but I'm doing my part of the job."  Pierre Rabhi

So, let’s all be hummingbirds.


  • Nelly Thomas is a Paris based bilingual copywriter and content strategist and the founder of CarboneCopy. The versatility of her experiences and projects have enabled her to create custom-made content solutions for a wide variety of audiences.
  • Brice Degeyter is a French entrepreneur and believes in turning businesses into sustainability. He is the founder of Bizsu, a company supplying sustainable, innovative and cost-saving products and services to corporations.

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