I don’t know about you, but my brain is still struggling to process the dramatic shifts that have taken place in the way we work and live over the past two weeks.

Like many other businesses, Bioregional transitioned to remote working over 24 hours. As well as managing that shift, we are contingency planning and trying as best we can to maintain staff morale (online pub drinks, mediation and regular check-ins). And of course, we are talking to our clients and partners about how we can continue to work together over this period of disruption to business as usual.

We are lucky – we don’t rely on getting large numbers of people to gather in confined spaces on a regular basis. Much of our work can carry on, though we are acutely aware there may be tough times ahead both for us and our clients.

I know there are a lot of people out there right now who won’t have time to read a blog like this. They’re facing a cliff edge – making desperately hard decisions with no brain space to think beyond putting out the immediate fires.

But I have started to come out of the shock and have developed a new working pattern that allows me to be present for my two children as well as for work. And I’m thinking more clearly about what this all means for those businesses that can carry on, at least in the short term.

In particular, I’m thinking about how we can keep making progress on achieving our goal of achieving happier, healthier and sustainable lives (what we call One Planet Living). Even in these frightening times.

Here are my thoughts so far on 5 things sustainability professionals, particularly in the retail sector, could be exploring over the coming weeks.

  1. Reflect on the products and services you offer…

    Against our wills, we’ve been flung into a situation where we have no choice but to focus on what’s really important. Both to maintaining our own, and our colleagues’ health and wellbeing, to keeping our businesses afloat, and to achieving our sustainability goals.

    So why not use this time to do some clear, honest reflection about what matters. Simply put, when we come through this crisis, will you still want to be selling a product or service that’s doing nothing to improve people’s wellbeing and, instead, is contributing to ecosystem collapse? Or do you want to help create a world where people can live in health and happiness within the natural limits of the planet?
  2. ... and how they are produced

    We’ve been operating in a fully globalised world without giving it a second thought. But right now we are beginning to see the impact of the pandemic on supply chains. Despite previous disasters such as the volcanic eruption in Iceland back in 2010, many companies were still wholly unprepared for the impact of a crisis of this scale.

    A survey of 300 businesses in late January and early February following the Covid-19 outbreak in China found that they were still in data collection and assessment mode, manually trying to identify which of their suppliers had a site in the specific locked-down regions of China. As a result, many companies have struggled to prevent supply chain disruption.

    Deloitte has noted that this could be the moment that companies and entire industries rethink their approach to supply chains, moving from the traditional supply chain approach to a digital supply network approach.

    This presents a unique moment for businesses to rethink how they create products, how they design them and what materials they are made from, with a view to making them significantly more sustainable. So if you’re already rethinking things for logistical reasons – don’t forget there’s an opportunity to do so for planetary reasons too.

    We’ve worked with several clients in the past to review the key materials that are critical for their products and services and to help them better understand what is and isn’t sustainable about their supply chain. We have then helped to develop sustainable materials roadmaps so they can put in place actionable plans that mean in future, their products are made from the most sustainable materials possible.

    Obviously in-depth work on this can only be done if your business has enough secured income to see you through these challenging times but, if you do, this could be a sensible, future-proofing decision.
  3. Get the ‘important but not urgent’ things done

    Many of us have a whole host of things that are important, but not urgent. When do we ever get time for this work? Perhaps right now, if your business is managing to tick over, you could review policies and procedures, or create new guidelines for how you could operate more sustainably when the normal speed of life kicks in again.

    This is the perfect time to stick some music on, switch off your emails and instant messaging platforms, and get all the important but not urgent stuff off your to-do list once and for all.
  4. Don’t drop staff engagement

    Keep doing staff engagement – both on your sustainability strategy and, just as importantly, to keep morale up. Online platforms like Zoom make some of this easier. For example, lunch and learn sessions are an easy way of keeping people engaged as well as staying connected.

    For us, this has actually made socialising and events more accessible for many of our staff – including those who have caring responsibilities and those who work outside of London.

    At Bioregional we focus on a different One Planet Living principle every month. April, somewhat ironically this year, is our health and happiness month. So every day in April we’ll be posting a tip from Action for Happiness’ Calendar for coping through Covid 19 on our new MS Teams organisation-wide chat group as well as via social media.
  5. Think about whether your business could help tackle the immediate crisis

    Think about the skills, products and services that are in short supply right now, and how you might be able to turn your attention towards helping the many people in urgent need.

    For example, airline staff have first aid and emergency training. Could they be redeployed into supporting the NHS call for volunteers? Easyjet and Virgin are already doing on the case. There’s also a huge need for logistical support. Could airport baggage handlers help?

    Sadly, there are plenty of kids at home with no access to the tech they need to carry on their schooling. Assignments are emailed out. Google classrooms is a requirement for many. For others, access to online maths and grammar programmes is needed daily. Could your business respond to the urgent appeals from schools for new laptops?

    If there is reduced demand for your current products or services, can you pivot to something else that addresses an immediate need? For example Prada, H&M and other brands are now planning to produce surgical masks, and Mercedes Formula 1 have joined forces with researchers at UCL to design and produce a breathing aid (a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure CPAP mask).

Looking beyond the immediate crisis, what lessons can you learn from how you are addressing it that could help you rapidly switch to being more sustainable once it’s over? And will you be able to look back with pride, and see how you contributed to creating a real step-change in protecting people and planet? I hope so. Let’s keep talking – we need to now more than ever.

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Claire Brady
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