Ian Humphreys Thu 30 Apr 2020 updated: Tue 16 Mar 2021
We cannot go back to business as usual.
This is the constant refrain that we hear from civic leaders, politicians and commentators across our society. Over the past 7 weeks we have all had a chance to reflect how we conducted our business practices and engaged with one another socially. There has been so much food for thought as we re-evaluate what’s important to us and how we rebuild following this pandemic.
There are key values that are getting us through these difficult times; looking out for one another and recognising that our actions impact more than just ourselves. We are rediscovering that a brighter day is possible and that together we can meet any challenge but only by taking action, making sacrifices and having a common purpose.
It will be important as we embark upon the “new normal” that we keep some of the core values that have helped us so far during the COVID-19 epidemic.
As a sector, the environment and how we look after it has always tried to bring these important values together. Building for the future, bringing people together and protecting public health.
A new normal has to include how we look after our environment.
We have seen images of empty motorways that were once crowded, lakes with fish returning after years of pollution and quieter spaces. Yet we have also seen more images of increasing fly tipping and people thoughtlessly littering gloves and face masks.
If this pandemic has brought anything home to us it should be that how we look after our public spaces is incredibly important for our collective wellbeing. Just as we have seen how vulnerable we are to this virus, we also know the environment is incredibly vulnerable too.
The key to achieving all of this lies in the need for behaviour change.
Changing people’s attitudes towards just discarding something and thinking it has no consequence on others has to be an important part of the conversation going forward into the future. It is, I believe, a reflection of a deeper malaise in our society. Likewise, banking some of the wider environmental benefits, such as fewer cars on the road and people valuing exercise, is going to be something that policy-makers will have to ensure is continued.
Another important part of our behaviour change approach is how we value our key workers. I am not just referring to those who are working in the health service, but also those who are emptying our bins, sorting our recycling and cleaning our streets on a daily basis. These workers are also keeping us safe and ensuring that public health is maintained during this pandemic. They deserve our thanks and appreciation for all the work they are doing on the publics’ behalf.
Whatever change is coming in the months ahead, let’s make sure it’s positive for the longer term. We have seen that behaviour change is possible within our population and that when we have to meet a challenge, our community can respond.
The values that the environment sector has been talking about for the past number of years can help lead the way and demonstrate what works.
We have a big conversation ahead of us. We need to make sure that we play our part in developing our new normal, but that new normal doesn’t have to mean a change for the worse. If we make the right decisions we can use it as the steps towards a better future for us all.