March 25, 2020
Path to Goal Zero: COVID-19 Could Be the Trigger to Mitigate Waste
COVID-19 will prove to be the trigger for behavioral changes towards zero waste and move beyond regional silos to a global realization and movement. This pandemic may force us to prove that “less is more” in most cases and smart consumption is the way forward.
There is a lot of talk around COVID-19, commonly known as coronavirus; COVID-19 has an increased impact on families, communities, industries, institutions, medical systems, frontline staff including those who serve and protect. Companies are also going to extreme lengths to maintain consistent standards of cleanliness, disinfection and diseases prevention as part of their daily operations.
The world continues to grapple with the impact of COVID-19 and take defensive action to stop the spread to vulnerable citizens. All levels of government are forced to make decisions and take actions that impact our daily activities, mobility and lives. These actions are influencing and changing people’s behaviours based on fear and, in many cases, greed.
As this deadly virus spreads, business leaders need to make rapid quality decisions for both the short and long term and, without question, companies are acting quickly as cases of the coronavirus pandemic are being reported globally.
Beyond the urgent response, companies need to look longer term to evaluate their supply chains, ensuring that future access to raw materials, components, and finished goods will not be impeded by another catastrophe of any sort. Although supply-chain diversification is a costly multi-year process, companies need to reduce current and future risks originating from any region in the world. To give some perspective of the global economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, tourism, travel, service delivery, supply chain capabilities, production, manufacturing, oil prices, gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel are on a major decline to name a few.
On the opposite side of these declines, there is mass consumer purchasing and hoarding of paper products, food and other essentials, thereby making it difficult for vulnerable and mobility restricted citizens to find and access supplies. I do hope that coming out of this pandemic we don’t end up discarding food and creating more waste.
We are also seeing the use of and access to disposable, single use products, clothing and devices having a positive impact on curbing the spread of infections. Companies are taking the necessary measures to protect people from the threat of contagion, from suspending operations to eliminating noncritical business travel, work from home and other social distancing decisions.
Additionally, corporate specific steps include:
Technology firms are curtailing operations in China and closing corporate offices, stores, and contact centers out of an abundance of caution and based on the latest advice from leading health experts.
Major airlines have suspended flights and are waiving change fees etc.
Restaurants and other public services are closing and restricting services to drive through services
Automakers and suppliers have suspended production and limit travel
Travel, Tour and Large hotel chains –reportedly are offering free reservation changes or cancellations.
What of the Longer Term?
We are experiencing the global impacts of natural disasters, political and geopolitical tensions disruption of manufacturing, distribution and the global supply chain. We should brace for a major effect on supply chain, manufacturing and distribution worldwide. It will begin to hit full force in two to three weeks and could last for months. Currently, in most organizations, actions and decisions are misaligned, some companies are pursuing their coronavirus responses strictly within organizational silos (for example, the purchasing team is driving supply-chain efforts, sales and marketing teams are working on customer communications, IT is trying to control and enable remote and monitoring independently actions independently.). These teams are working on different assumptions and get highly tactical, going deep into the weeds rather than thinking about the relationships and interdependencies with other parts of the organization and suppliers, while preparing for what may come next.
Manufacturers, technology firms, consumer products companies, and retailers need to evaluate whether they are overinvested in terms of suppliers and their own production of components and finished goods. Companies need to weigh how best to diversify their suppliers, product design for reuse along with their geographic supply chains to survive the new Covid-19 influenced consumer behaviour era.
There are other industries like online retailing that are experiencing a growth impetus. Online food delivery services are also, understandably, flourishing as are other kinds of contactless delivery services. Then there’s the healthcare industry where disrupted supplies of pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and biotechnological devices threaten growth prospects.
The near term is essential, but we cannot ignore the future as we focus on the near term, we must do both simultaneously.
Planning and enabling current and future work streams, supply chains with the longer-term dimensions are even more critical. The disruption of the current outbreak is shifting industry structures. Supply-chain resilience will be at a premium. It may sound impossible for management teams that are already working 18-hour days, but too few are dedicating the needed time and effort to responses focused on the longer term, which will emerge with significant changes on how the workforces will be re-engaged. The pre-Covid-19 consumer patterns will change and the new role of technology, demand and consumerism will significantly change; virtualization will play an important role, social distancing and disruption may linger for months if not longer. Companies have an imperative to act immediately to protect their employees, address business challenges and risks, and help to mitigate waste and resource reuse in whatever ways they can.
The coronavirus crisis is a story without a clear ending. What is clear is that the human impact is already tragic and at the same time positive default behaviours of this pandemic, such as, not wasting products, improving personal hygiene and optimizing food resource use and reuse is promising and should be encouraged.
Going forward the time is now to start planning for business resumption. This is also the time and opportunity to assess, design, analyze and identify opportunities for product and services multi-use. incorporating waste mitigation, product optimization and end of life reuse as core design principles and continue to support the COVID-19 influenced trend of waste mitigation, use and reuse habits that most consumers are by default now fully engaged in.
Another benefit that we will realize from the COVID-19 pandemic is the prioritization of front-line workers, medical, protective services, service providers, etc. will become more valuable over celebrities, actors and sports figures. This shift will also impact and change how influencers will be engaged in marketing and promoting products. We will see a major shift in consumer behaviors as they will now pay more attention and will be thinking twice about purchasing non- essential items.
We will emerge from the impact of CPVID-19 with significant changes in consumer buying habits and demands. COVID-19 will prove to be the trigger for behavioral changes towards zero waste and move beyond regional silos to a global realization and movement. After all, this pandemic force us to prove that “less is more” in most cases and smart consumption is the way forward.
The change is now and we have in front of us proof that waste can be mitigated; we are already on the waste mitigation path; therefore, I urge everyone to continue on this path and continue to find creative ways to use, reuse and continuously look for opportunities to reuse. One person’s trash is someone else’s garbage; it is now up to each of us to find that re-user.
Everything is possible, and we must consider the opportunities and impacts of all solutions, behaviors, technologies and modernize as we learn to lessen the social, environmental and economic impacts. This all requires a new way of thinking and significant behavioral changes.
Dave Gajadhar is an Advisor, Speaker, Educator, and an Advocate for Human prosperity and resource optimization at Resultant Group (Edmonton, AB), business modernization, resource optimization and transition advisors. He can be reached at (780) 483-4800, e-mail or on Twitter: @dgajadar
ResultantGroup and Companies for Zero Waste hosts the premier forum for sustainability leaders and practitioners—from the business world, government agencies, NGOs and investors to connect and explore emerging trends to move towards zero waste goals, pressing challenges and promising opportunities shaping business amid a world of climate change, resource constraints and unprecedented stakeholder pressures.