The pandemic has sped up our change of mindset to go beyond sustainability
Linear models should be replaced by circular ones, supported by technology. But the true change starts from within oneself.
The Atos Scientific Community, of which I’m a member, recently shared its vision on the digital world of tomorrow in Journey 2024: Redefining Enterprise Purpose. Sustainability is a key trend researched in our publication where we underline why it’s high time for companies to think beyond sustainability and to act collectively to pursue regenerative models and achieve enduring behavioral change.
This imperative makes sense with the current pandemic.
Circles and lines
Beyond sustainability. Just as the title implies, it’s our position that sustainability is an essential mindset, yet alone it won’t reverse climate change. It’s a linear reaction to a linear consumer economy. Once the goal of sustainability is achieved, businesses and governments — led by people — have a responsibility to circle back and regenerate or restore what’s been damaged. As leaders in our various digital domains, the authors know technology’s power to lessen humanity’s impact on the Earth. What’s missing is a shift in the vastly more powerful human mindset.
I’ve noticed this shift in my own mindset. It started with the hope that my kids (and potentially one day my grandkids) will always be able to enjoy this planet. Living under lockdowns and various other pandemic restrictions has accelerated my changing perspective. And it’s not only my mindset that is changing. All around me, people are questioning, whether the linear models of production, consumption and waste management are outdated. They, too, are contemplating a more circular economy of reuse, recycle and re-purpose.
A changing mindset leads to changing behaviors
It seems that during my youth everyone took the environment for granted. We weren’t considering any negative effects of our own consumption. One vivid memory from the 90’s is of the growing garbage heaps in the streets of Italian cities. Everything was covered in plastics - quite unbelievable today! With the years the sensibility for how we treat our planet has grown. Planning meals ahead and shopping for only what is needed has become a new habit that, at the same time, reduces leftovers and food waste. Repairing broken things, not throwing them away immediately, thinking more about what we buy and where, is new to many of us. This change in mindset puts supply chains under pressure to show that they are ethical, regenerative and provide good quality.
My transportation habits have also changed. The usage of bikes has increased a lot during the pandemic. The restrictions have also taught me that vacations at home are not a bad thing either. Travel, for pleasure or business, is wasteful. Digitalization is making the habit of flying around the globe and collecting mileage for status obsolete.
But is it possible to change direction without losing the progress we have already made in health, wellbeing, education and prosperity? The response to the current COVID-19 pandemic would suggest that it is possible to make rapid and significant changes, when forced to. For example, the technologies deployed to facilitate homeworking are already having a positive impact on global emissions and the carbon footprint from business travel.
Overnight, many businesses have adopted flexible and remote working, and significantly increased the usage of unified communication tools — not because they wanted to. Business continuity depended on it.
Coincidentally, ubiquitous connectivity in people’s homes (something that was rare only a few years ago) has wholly enabled businesses during the pandemic. Not only were new business models built on the back of consumer Wi-Fi, they’ve also had an unintended beneficial effect on sustainability.
Not only were new business models built on the back of consumer Wi-Fi, they’ve also had an unintended beneficial effect on sustainability.
Individual mindsets hold the key
Every company that has transformed during this upheaval has taken one step in the right direction. To make this change itself sustainable, individuals within the organizations need to change their mindsets. There should not be a return to old linear practices.
My personal change is one good example, which seems like a very small step. Does it matter that one person thinks differently about her diet, the way she travels and how she consumes? Now I see this change happening in others, too.
More companies are acting responsibly, motivating their employees, and are themselves motivated by their customers and employees to become more sustainable and circular.
I’m optimistic that this is the only way to grow into a society that acts beyond sustainability to restore and regenerate the natural resources that all of those potential grandchildren will need in the future.