Like many people over the last few weeks, I have been pondering how Covid-19 might impact business models of the future. As someone who has been working for around 30 years in the environmental field with a recent focus on the circular economy, it is an area which particularly interests me.
There have already been discussions on the short-term environmental benefits associated with reduced travel, consumption and energy use associated with widespread lockdown. Jelly fish and dolphins have appeared in the Venice canals and air pollution has dramatically reduced in major cities. These are, however, inevitably short-lived benefits and as we start to pick up the pieces and rebuild our economy will these short-lived changes simply be reversed?
To retain my sanity while working in the environmental field I have sought to remain optimistic about our ability to change and adapt to global challenges. My hope is that our experiences through the Covid-19 epidemic will also kick start a new approach that recognises the benefits a low carbon, more circular approach to rebuilding our economy.
The linear business model which we have practiced for so many years relies on complex supply chains. We export goods and services that we then reimport from elsewhere. We work on the basis that we can source anything whenever we want from anywhere and that someone somewhere will look after our waste.
A number of these assumptions have been tested during the last weeks. Some sectors have been struggling to export, others to import and we continue to assume that someone will get rid of our waste which again relies on complex supply chains.
This might encourage us as we move forward to look at opportunities to develop local supply chains which will also help boost local economies. For example, animal feed, fish feed and fertiliser could be generated locally using waste products from other industries. New construction materials can be derived from waste products and many companies could reduce their costs by taking back product to remanufacture and reuse.
There is also the opportunity to build on our sudden and daily reliance on technology to participate in daily life. In the future one could anticipate more homeworking and greater flexibility which will reduce travel but also enable more efficient use of space and promote a healthier wellbeing. We may also take the opportunity to use technology to improve resource efficiency, performance management and the management of materials through the development of material banks and resource exchange sites.
The economic consequences of the shut-down will certainly be significant. A sharing economy could be a way to help to reduce inequalities as we move through difficult times. Car sharing, tool sharing or even office sharing to reduce business overheads may be a step forward.
There will also be a need for economic rescue packages across many sectors. There is a growing call which may finally be heeded that these packages need to not only deal with the consequences of the Covid-19 but also enable the move towards a low carbon future on which we all depend.