Sustainability, recycling, fair-trade, and bio-based products – those are only a few examples of terms, which have grown in popularity and importance in the past few years. Environmental and ethical sustainability is to this day a very important driver for countless consumers. However, something has changed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has influenced our lives to an extent, which has not been seen before in modern times. I am confident to say, that everything has changed. Our lives have been impacted in countless dimensions – the way we work, travel, spend our free time, the frequency and way in which we visit our families, and of course our shopping and dining habits. In general, change is neither good or bad, it is an outcome or effect of a specific cause. Depending on our individual situation and point of view, we tend to see these effects as either positive, or negative. The goal of this article is to assess the positive as well as negative influences of COVID-19 on our post-COVID lifestyle through the lens of sustainability.
The pandemic is without a doubt a huge tragedy, the virus has taken away far too many lives, numbers of hospitalized people around the world have skyrocketed. Healthcare systems in many countries around the world almost collapsed. People working in healthcare have suffered while trying to help others and save their lives. On the other side, people staying at home have suffered from lockdowns, social isolation, uncertainty, fear. The year 2020 has been a true stress test for people all around the world.
Nevertheless, from a sustainability point of view, it looked like lockdowns brought something positive.
At least at first glance. In the first half of 2020, air traffic has been drastically reduced, cruise ships lost its “importance”, nature came back to life and took back spaces usually occupied by humans, and in many polluted regions the sky became blue and clear again. It was “The Year Earth Changed” – which was most likely the reason for the title of a documentary released by Apple TV+ in early 2021.
On the surface, it looked relieving. Finally, we humans gave the earth time to breath, and she clearly enjoyed it. Effects of this “time-out”, which we have given our planet, have been clearly visible and in most cases astonishing. However, there is always a flipside. Since we humans are creatures of habits, it was just a matter of time until we got back to our old habits.
In between the first lockdowns in 2020, people were still cautious when it comes to travelling and moving across countries. Corona tests and vaccinations were not yet widely available. Once this has changed, what gave us a feeling of security in uncertain times, so did our habits and subsequently our behavior. I personally believe that the past two years taught us many lessons, especially when speaking about the environment, climate, CO2-pollution, sustainability, etc. Many of us understood how important a healthy earth actually is. That we should be mindful about our surroundings, contribute to the planet’s health, and not take it for granted.
As we moved on with the “feeling of security”, and vaccination rates were continuously growing, I often heard from people in my surrounding sentences like “I have stayed at home long enough, it’s time to go on vacation”, or “I didn’t use my car that often lately, time to change that”. While moving back to our old habits, we have again contributed to the raise of CO2 emissions. But this was not our biggest issue. There are bigger threats to all the efforts we have made in the past year in terms of sustainability. Those are our dining and shopping habits. Not only have the volumes of online shopping orders skyrocketed since the beginning of 2020, also the frequency we order takeaway food has rapidly increased in the past two years. There wouldn’t be anything wrong about it, if not the fact that food orders, as well as online shopping, negatively impact the main idea of sustainability, and therefor undermine all previous efforts. Both contribute to increased use of packaging material, single use plastic, and additional delivery routes - which contribute to additional CO2 emissions. Yes, we did not have any other choice since shops and restaurants were closed in many countries around the world. Still, it is a negative contribution to our previous efforts.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. To address the elephant in the room - the COVID-19 measures, including self-test sets, have destroyed almost all modern-day sustainability efforts. Enormous amounts of disposable masks have already contributed to the increase of garbage, COVID self-tests ruined all previous efforts of minimizing the usage of single use plastic, which we have been actively fighting for in past years among many industries.Enormous amounts of disposable masks have already contributed to the increase of garbage, COVID self-tests ruined all previous efforts of minimizing the usage of single use plastic, which we have been actively fighting for in past… Click To Tweet
Looking at all of what happened, I am asking myself: does sustainability still matter? Maybe we just use it as a sort of catchphrase, a fancy buzzword, since it sounds responsible, but doesn’t necessarily mean we act responsibly, right?
I can’t and don’t want to answer this question. I can only share my opinion, and I truly believe that the pandemic has sent us back in time when it comes to sustainability. Nowadays people are more aware about that topic, which is undoubtedly an advantage, nevertheless, there is still a lot of effort necessary to form new habits and again create the awareness about sustainable behavior. According to a recent Deloitte survey from 2021, 22% of the respondents are not interested in sustainability, and 15% claimed they don’t have enough information. Therefore, it is crucial to scale up education about it right now!Since the world is slowly opening again, most countries dropped pandemic-related restrictions, I believe it will be easier to for people to enjoy life again, spend some time in the nature, and consequently become more aware about… Click To Tweet
Since the world is slowly opening again, most countries dropped pandemic-related restrictions, I believe it will be easier to for people to enjoy life again, spend some time in the nature, and consequently become more aware about sustainability. At the same time, we must not forget about one very important detail – to give sustainability a chance, our shopping and dining habits also must change!
Adam Schoska, currently working as a project leader at the Mercedes-Benz Customer Assistance Center in Maastricht, is another professional who decided to pursue an MBA in International Business at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. The main motivation behind Adam's decision has been the possibility to further develop his business skills, as well as meet likeminded professionals from various industries to network with.