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The Next Economy
Cleaning Up Our Act:
The Heightened Urgency for a Green Recovery

The pandemic has been a turning point in the way businesses move forward. It is clear that by focusing on finding their higher purpose, right down to the intricacies of their supply chains, businesses can help manifest the sustainable future that we need.

In some parts of the world, it feels as though a level of normality is returning. Indeed, in my hometown in a London suburb, the streets feel busier as many restaurants and bars open, albeit with social distancing measures in place. And in the workplace, some offices are gradually reopening their doors, with workers across the country starting to return.

But the ongoing pandemic and imposed isolation has changed us and our culture. As we edge closer to recovery from COVID-19, we must think about what practices we have embraced while in lockdown that we want to take forward — particularly when we think about the wider world around us. According to research conducted in April 2020 by the think tank RSA, only 9 percent of Brits wanted a total return to “normal” after lockdown; 51 percent had noticed cleaner air and 40 percent felt a stronger sense of local community during the crisis.

It is time to act on these views and think seriously about how we can fulfil the urgent need for a more sustainable future. Even prior to the crisis, I spent my days discussing how data companies could work with B2B and B2C manufacturers and suppliers to improve corporate and global sustainability. Now, these conversations continue but with a far greater urgency. Key decision makers see a path for a more sustainable future and are more committed than ever to tackling climate change; reducing single-use plastic; and, by extension, improving visibility in global supply chains to help build a cleaner world.

Protecting the present, and the future

The fact that we have seen with our own eyes the positive impact a global lockdown has had on the environment is not the only thing fuelling this sense of urgency. The world’s leading biodiversity experts strongly believe that the destruction of the natural environment has been a driving force behind the outbreak.

An article recently published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) claims that the “rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people.”

It continued by warning that unless we stamp out the root cause of the destruction of the natural world, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to be followed by even more deadly and destructive disease outbreaks. It is therefore crucial that as we return to a sense of normality, we think seriously about how we ramp up our collective efforts to deliver a more sustainable, circular economy.

Extending the efforts of industries

Understandably, COVID-19 has put immense pressure on businesses — which have been forced to reimagine operations, business models and the broader way in which they work. While this has led to tough decisions, it has also allowed for an unprecedented wave of purpose-driven innovation that has helped not only ensure business continuity, but also alleviate the crisis.

Take for example the group of UK-based Formula 1 teams who raced to support VentilatorChallengeUK, with the likes of Mercedes and McLaren coming together to manufacture respiratory devices. Or tech companies such as Apple and Google, and SAP and Deutsche Telekom, which have teamed up to develop Coronavirus tracking tools. Clearly, the sense of “local community” that consumers noted extended to businesses as well. These efforts must not be overlooked, but we must now build on this momentum to change our future.

Starting with supply chains

A key starting point must be the ways in which businesses operate, and at their core is the supply chain. Of course, as we continue to face uncertainties, we need to adapt to the evolving situation by creating resilient supply chains; connecting buyers and sellers to ensure supplies are available when and where they are most needed — from PPE through to food items.

However, there is a real need to accelerate and establish the adoption of circular practices and processes that maximise the use of existing resources — this will play a key role in building a sustainable future. This is needed now more than ever; since last year, 92 percent of the 100 billion tonnes of materials used by people were extracted from the ‘natural’ environment, as opposed to only 8 percent that came from materials already in use.

Put simply, our earth cannot sustain this level of consumption without the dire consequences we have seen and continue to face if action is not taken. To put this into perspective, a dependency on new resources impacted the PPE crisis we witnessed in the UK and the US, to name a few. While UK critical care workers, for instance, have struggled to source PPE equipment, we had enough existing materials to produce over £1bn of the PPE need. In short, we need to commit ourselves to using what we already have — which is, in fact, a lot.

There is no doubt the pandemic has been a turning point in the way businesses move forward. I am personally encouraged by the urgency that has been applied to the conversations I have been having, with organisations realising that they must commit to delivering a more sustainable future. It is clear that by focusing on finding their higher purpose, right down to the intricacies of their supply chains, businesses can help manifest the sustainable future that we need.