Can we measure the environmental success of lockdown?

Jo Barnard, Founder of Morrama on the environmental impact of a global pandemic.

Jo Barnard, Morrama



Coronavirus and the resulting lockdown have dramatically altered our perceptions of normal life. But with these perceived negative impacts of COVID-19, come a number of significant benefits, the most notable being the environmental impact of a global pandemic.

Carbon emission levels across Europe and the rest of the world dropped dramatically at the start of the global lockdown, down by 25% in China and 50% in New York. Now though, it is being reported that carbon emission levels across Europe are back on the rise, with Paris, Brussels and Milan all experiencing a return to previous levels.

It is clear that we are facing another challenge as we look to emerge from this unprecedented time, and that is preserving the good work this situation has done for our environment. To simply snapback to our previous norms would be a massive opportunity missed. As a society and collective existence, re-thinking our ways of living across the board, from the way we travel to how we consume products, are of the utmost importance.

In order to meet its 2050 environmental goal, the UK must reduce its annual carbon emission levels by 7.6%. To put this into context, emission levels were down 31% at the start of lockdown, meaning it is not beyond the realm of possibility to even partially replicate this behaviour as we look to regain a sense of normality in our daily lives. Instead of returning to a state of pre-COVID-19, we should be looking at how we can use this experience to work towards a higher goal, one which allows the recovery of our economy, but also preserves a fresher, healthier ecosystem.

Emerging technologies have the potential to supplement our need for face-to-face interaction where it is not vital.

Jo Barnard

Cut back on travel

Reducing travel is a significant factor in safeguarding our environment, whether that be for business or pleasure. International travel costs are going to increase as airlines start to offer more frequent flights abroad, we know that much already. This should do a lot of the work for us when it comes to reducing carbon emissions through discouragement. However, the pending staycation boom will see a greater number of personally owned cars take to the roads in search of UK-based holiday destinations. It is important that public transport systems are fully prepared to offer safe trips for citizens, or many will continue to take shelter in the safety of their own vehicles.

From the business perspective, we have realised in this period that those long-distance trips for business meetings are not always necessary; a simple Zoom call can suffice for most meetings.

Disruptive technologies such as VR and AR also provide new alternatives for businesses in their day-to-day operations moving forward. Emerging technologies have the potential to supplement our need for face-to-face interaction where it is not vital, and so should be nurtured and utilised more often.

The e-commerce boom

The closure of retail facilities has significantly halted, and damaged, the world of physical, in-store retail experiences. Barred to our homes, e-commerce and remote shopping took precedence and has seen this sector accelerate by five years at least.

Job losses and redundancies have naturally been the clear negative to this, but a drive in online shopping has dramatically reduced the amount of cars on the road, delivery vehicles aside, with convenience shopping emerging as the go-to for customers, as it was pre-COVID. With this in mind though, delivery vehicles still present a significant issue when it comes to pollution. Next day delivery will need to be prohibited with the exception of bulk purchases.

During COVID we’ve got used to doing one big shop at the supermarket each week, and it’s little habits like these that are important to maintain in the longer term if we want to cut carbon emissions. The goal is to minimise transportation by shopping and shipping carefully and ensuring delivery vans are always full. Greener transport methods are also required to drive this greater, positive change to how we consume products and will be crucial in the coming years where e-commerce experiences will continue to evolve and change shape.

If there’s one thing that the lockdown has shown us, it is just how much waste we produce day-to-day.

Jo Barnard

Wasteful homes

If there’s one thing that the lockdown has shown us, it is just how much waste we produce day-to-day. Being forced to remain in one’s home has subsequently resulted in a dramatic increase in the amount of waste we produce within our homes. Since the start of lockdown, UK households have been producing 20% more waste at home, while there has on the other hand been a 50% decrease in commercial waste due to this ‘house arrest’.

The hope from this is that people will seek out ways to reduce their waste contribution. But to do this, the councils should be taking more steps to educate their residents with regards to household waste. It was recently reported that just one in five councils across the country were providing full recycling services, with the government admitting it could not meet this year’s recycling targets. With that said, we could have sacrificed a golden opportunity to truly change our approach to waste as a nation. But there is still time to change this.

What’s next?

What is vital, is that we look to use this time as a learning curve, as a situation that can influence how we conduct our lives for the benefit and longevity of our environment.

It is time for campaigns and movements encouraging more sustainable choices to make themselves heard and start to influence legislation and government approaches to recycling and sustainable living. This is the point of change where we can implement new and better habits as our lives start up again. But what we need is information, and better education on the subject.

Let us not look back at this moment years down the line as that one time the air was clear, and the birds came back into the city.

Guest Author

Jo Barnard, Morrama



Jo is an experienced and passionate designer and founded industrial design and innovation agency studio Morrama just one year after graduating from University. Prior to establishing Morrama, Jo worked with a number of large-scale clients including John Lewis, TomTom and GravityLight. A champion of female empowerment within design and of the role of sustainability to create a better design industry, Jo has established an incredible understanding of all things design, from the idea curation phase right through to manufacturing and distribution as she continues to push the boundaries of innovation with Morrama on a day-to-day basis.

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