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Could the COVID-19 Detour Give us a Shortcut on the Road to Zero Carbon?

Rebekah Valero-Lee covid-19

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By Gareth Morris, group director of health, safety, quality and environmental compliance

In just a few short weeks, life has changed for so many that it’s sometimes hard to remember where our priorities lay in the weeks and months before the pandemic.

The effects of COVID-19 will include immeasurable tragedy, along with significant impacts on the global economy. But not all of the COVID-19 legacy will be negative. The virus has prompted a pause in the way we live and work that has delivered quantifiable environmental benefits.

The question is, can we use that pause and environmental data to identify new opportunities for a fast-track route to zero carbon?

 

What is Carbon:2023?

The COVID-19 pandemic has redefined concepts of caring and community but caring has always been in Morson’s DNA and our commitment to giving back to the community and environment in which we work and live remains unchanged. That’s why our Carbon:2023 pledge is more important to us now than ever.

We launched our Carbon:2023 scheme before the pandemic, based on the parameters of what we knew then as ‘normal’. Our promise was to aim to be a carbon neutral business by 2023; not by simply buying carbon offsets but by changing behaviours. Our goal was to make a sustainable commitment to reducing our carbon footprint by examining where changes could be made, ensuring that, as a company, as a team and as individuals, we could make a meaningful and long-lasting difference.

Those objectives haven’t changed, but so much else has changed around us in such a short time. Our challenge now is to capitalise on the potential behaviour change outcomes of the pandemic and use them to plot a more direct path to carbon neutrality.

 

Taking our lockdown experience into the new normal

At some point, the lockdown will be over and we will return to ‘normal’. It will be a ‘new normal’, however, and we will have the opportunity to decide what it looks like. Those decisions will be based on experience: we must question the way we did things in the ‘old normal’ and what we’ve learned during lockdown to inform choices for working and living more sustainably with reduced carbon emissions going forward.

One of the key obstacles to environmentally-conscious behaviours in the past has been resistance to change. Companies and their employees have operated on an ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ philosophy, perpetuating work and life behaviours with negative environmental impacts simply because change is difficult and they couldn’t see how it was possible. The difference that the pandemic has made is that change has been imposed and people have been forced to adapt to it. It’s not been easy and not all of it can or should be part of the way companies operate when the lockdown is over. However, some of our new habits can and ought to become the foundations of new patterns of behaviour.

Since the lockdown began, air pollution in the UK has plummeted compared to the same period last year. Average daily nitrogen dioxide (NO2) readings dipped below 10 micrograms per cubic metre at the beginning of April, less than half of what they had been when the lockdown began or at the same time last year. Much of the reason for this is likely to be the significant reduction in use of all forms of transport.

Use of motor vehicles is down by 60 per cent since the start of the lockdown. Not only does the lack of ‘non-essential’ journeys reduce carbon emissions and use of fossil fuels, it also creates opportunities for people to adopt healthier, more environmentally-friendly cycling and walking habits as their permitted daily exercise, which will hopefully become routine once restrictions are over.

Whereas, under the old ‘normal’, we might have considered face-to-face meetings or a weekend visit to the high street as ‘essential’, what the lockdown has taught us is that those behaviours were not nearly as necessary as we thought. We’ve learned that it is not only possible to hold meetings as a video call, but it’s often beneficial: just think of all the travel time and expense, diary clashes and scrabbling around for meeting rooms that have been avoided over the past few weeks. And for every meeting held over the internet, the carbon emissions associated with travel have been saved.

The lockdown has created a new consciousness of what we really need and how much we routinely waste. We’ve had to get by with less, so routine habits, like printing off paper copies of documents before meetings have been consciously abandoned in favour of screen sharing. Moreover, with refuge collections limited, the amount we throw away has become much more embedded in our minds and our behaviours.

 

Building on our environmental commitments

With a clear commitment to carbon reduction already in place, these steps towards improved environmental behaviours will play a role in building on the plans Morson had already put in place to help us achieve our Carbon-2023 goals before COVID-19.

Reducing the number of journeys by road is something we had already identified as a major element of furthering carbon reduction goals. As part of our Carbon: 2023 scheme development, we underwent a thorough analysis of our carbon emissions and found that our fleet was the element that ranked the highest within the business. With some 695 commercial vehicles across the UK, we became the first million litre per year user to adopt the Shell Destination: Carbon Neutral fuel card scheme.

This scheme sees Shell track fleet consumption and calculate the CO2 emissions associated with this throughout the year. Costing just 1p extra per litre of fuel, the money goes towards the purchase of carbon credits, each one representative of the avoidance of 1 tonne of carbon dioxide.

Alongside this, we also took the decision to invest in hybrid commercial vehicles and have been looking into electrical vehicle smart charging, which modulates charging to different times of the day. We have identified ‘vehicle to grid’ technology, which enables energy stored in electric vehicles to be fed back into the grid at times of peak demand, as a resource management tool too.

Emergent green energy technology will also be a focus for Morson moving forwards, and our intention is to utilise the in-house design engineering capabilities of Waldeck and Morson Projects, whose portfolio of work includes Energy from Waste centres and other renewable means of energy production. Our plans include introducing photovoltaic panels and wind turbines on our head office building in Salford. We’ve also looked into heat source pumps and water conservation initiatives have been investigating other resource reduction programmes, including recycling and automated lighting/water systems.

 

Reaching our Carbon:2023 destination

At the moment, the future is hard to predict, but the need to address issues of carbon reduction and climate change will be just as critical as ever. Morson was already on the road to zero and, far from allowing COVID-19 to send us off course, we will leverage what we’ve learned from the pandemic to help us reach our Carbon:2023 destination.