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April 22, 2020

Is There a Sustainable Silver Lining to the COVID-19 Crisis?

The following was published on April 22, 2020 as a LinkedIn blog post by Walter van het Hof,Global Industry Affairs and Sustainability Leader.

Earth Day Blog


Headshot of Walter van het Hof

Walter van het Hof,Global Affairs and Sustainability Leader

Today is Earth Day, a time to channel the world’s collective focus around the urgent need for accelerated climate action. However, this year’s call to action has taken a necessary backseat to global efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

The impacts of this crisis will undoubtedly reverberate across generations, fundamentally changing our healthcare system, economy, social interactions and beyond. Out of this devastating moment, I would argue that we have the singular opportunity to redefine what we want for a “new normal” in our post-coronavirus society.

Here is why I feel this moment has uniquely positioned us to make systemic and exciting environmental change in the future:

A New Mindset

The first step toward true change comes from altering our mindset, and I have never seen more profound changes in the mindset of humanity than I have during this crisis. Amid the fear and devastation, there has been a global outpouring of compassion unlike anything we have previously witnessed. People are thinking not just of their own needs and their family’s needs but of everyone’s needs — of the common good.

Many are also realizing their resiliency and capacity for change is vaster than they could have ever imagined. When faced with the insurmountable, we have risen to the challenge — proving that we can have an impact and that we can change. This shift is setting the stage for a future in which meaningful changes can be made in our everyday lives to reduce our carbon footprint, limit consumption and prioritize sustainability.

A Different Kind of Economic Stimulus

Governments have recently taken unprecedented steps to stimulate the economy, so we can be ready for business as usual to resume. But “usual” is not good enough. It hasn’t been for a long time.

In the near future, I believe we will have the opportunity to reconsider how we drive our economy forward. We have long supported a linear economy in which we make, use and then dispose of materials. However, the future of our economy lies in circularity.

In a circular economy, resources are recovered from end materials and regenerated into new products, maximizing their lifespan and reducing unnecessary waste. Sustainability initiatives have long been seen as obstacles to economic growth, but I believe government and industry can come together in the wake of this crisis to push for a green deal that brings such initiatives to the forefront as economic drivers.

If there is any silver lining to this tragedy, it is that we can “reset” ourselves, reconsider our priorities and chart a bold new path forward for global sustainability. We absolutely cannot settle for a return to normal. We must fight for a “new normal,” in which environmental change goes hand-in-hand with economic success, and we collectively change our individual habits for a more sustainable future.

We can and will come out of this crisis stronger than we were before.