Who’d have thought it would take a global pandemic and an economic crisis to see how we can re-imagine our future on the planet?
COVID-19 has swept through the world like a tsunami wave. It has showed no discrimination, infecting people regardless of religion, class or wealth, ignoring national borders, demanding attention and sweeping aside any attempts to deliver 'business as usual'.
The ugly side of human selfishness was exposed as people stock-pile perceived necessities at the expense of others, ignoring requests to stay at home and refusing to keep social distance.
Yet, it has also shined a light on the strength of our community, as thousands have volunteered to help out, and waves of applause has rippled up and down the country in appreciation of our key workers. These are the real heroes who place themselves in danger every day, providing vital services, fighting the virus, and caring for the vulnerable and the sick.
We have seen companies putting aside their competitive focus and profit-making activities as they transform products and services to overcome shortages in equipment and facilities.
We have seen families spending more time together. We have seen a renewed discovery of the value of nature and the outdoors as people find they have more time on their hands. We have seen people walking, where once they would have used cars or buses. We have seen people growing their own vegetables, making their own bread and buying produce from local shops and farms.
The COVID-19 crisis, despite its many sad and horrible implications in terms of sickness and death, is exactly what we needed to galvanise us, to draw us together as one global community, to see more clearly what we are collectively capable of achieving, and to bring into focus what needs to be done globally to secure our future on this planet.
The economic cycle is broken, or at least disrupted for a while. Our usual way of being has changed – irreversibly and forever, maybe for the better. A search for different answers has begun and a new kind of normal has quickly taken shape.
Our liability could become our opportunity. As we know, necessity is the mother of invention.
As the old ways of doing things have broken down under the pressure of a global crisis, we become mindful of new ways of doing things breaking through.
Enforced social isolation has dramatically accelerated virtual working. Much of the face-to-face activity once thought necessary for business – meetings, coaching, briefings, presentations, conferences – are now firmly rooted in the digital world. At home we rely more now on the internet for connecting with family, shopping, entertainment and social activity.
Working in the virtual space saves money and it may also save the planet.
As the daily busyness has calmed, we have had time to stop and think. We can reflect on some of the positives we have experienced, as well as the limitations. We can start to re-imagine our collective future where our changed behaviours will allow us to live more in balance with nature than before.
Cleaner air under newly created 'no fly zones' are prompting conversations about the possibilities of reducing costly business travel whilst cutting atmospheric pollutants. Dramatic reductions in harmful gases, typically created from petrol and diesel vehicles, are producing healthier environments in inner cities. Even the canals of Venice are running cleaner, with fish returning to them, as a result of the lock down.
As industrial activity falls, it results in dramatic reductions in greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air in Finland recorded a 25% drop in China’s carbon dioxide emissions over the four weeks beginning in late January, compared to the same time last year.
And what of the food we eat? The finger of blame for COVID-19 is being pointed at zoonosis, a disease that can be transferred from animal to human. Research is still in progress, but intensive, industrial scale agriculture and the production of hybrid strains of meat are already being connected to the trail of causes that brought about the virus.
Is it right that we happily consume food produced in different countries and transported thousands of miles to our supermarkets? Are we justified in eating fruit out of season or fish from depleted oceans?
COVID-19 came on the tail of record levels of rainfall, hurricanes, bush fires, droughts and ice melts. We are seeing the effects of climate change all around us and along with the ongoing loss of biodiversity this represents no less of a threat to our global society than the current coronavirus crisis. Probably more!
Companies, governments and communities have become more sensitive to other threats that face humanity. They are much better informed and experienced to take action. Dialogue is taking place around how a social crisis has created whole scale changes in behaviour and how this new model could also be applied to the climate crisis.
A new agenda for change is emerging, gaining traction and is raising questions that will not go away.
Some companies are close to collapse. Their business models are revealed as unsustainable. They rely on outdated, single service activity that is easily exposed and disrupted. All of this creates fertile ground for commerce-led, sustainable innovation that transforms business models and behaviours.
The world needs leadership that embraces a new way of thinking and a new way of working. Leadership that liberates brilliance and harnesses that brilliance to drive change and transformation, to build restorative environmental practices.
We can now join up the dots. We can see the bigger picture rapidly forming before our eyes. Our experience of dealing with COVID-19, is teaching us much. It is our duty to apply these lessons to how we respond to what is probably the biggest crisis we will ever face, the climate crisis. Our approach to dealing with COVID-19 could transform the way we behave in the future.
All of our experience to date comes together. Pulling us into our next set of challenges.
Challenges we have to tackle as a global community. Important challenges.
Challenges that the world needs us to address now.
Challenges that if tackled now can restore a balance between ourselves and nature.
The time for making change happen has come.
Will you be a part of it?
We recently ran a global CEO Business Leadership Survey. We surveyed over 100 business leaders from across our global network, including businesses from a range of sectors and a range of sizes. In sharing the analysis and conclusions from this work we hope we can contribute to the wider conversation about where businesses go from here and how their leaders might take them there. You can read the full survey report here.
David Williams is Impact's CEO and Founder.