The New Normal (Part 2): The COVID-19 Pandemic's Effects on Sustainability

Alissa (00:09): Hey, everyone. Welcome to “Get Real,” a podcast to empower you with sustainability know-how so you can improve your quality of life while doing your part to protect the planet. I'm your host, Alissa Stevens, an ecopreneur, Star Wars nerd, and relentlessly positive champion for radical transformation. Join me as I delve into global sustainability issues, break them down, and most importantly provide you with actions. So you can be an eco leader and your everyday life. This is episode three, part two of our conversation about the new normal. What does life look like after COVID-19 and how can we make that new normal sustainable, we're covering six industries in this episode, and it's will really round out the rest of the industries that we've talked about. So you have a whole holistic view of what's happening in the world. Let's jump right in with transportation. It's no secret that transportation has changed since COVID given that every single one of us has been endorsed for months in the final two weeks of March, total miles driven in the United States had dropped by more than 40%.


Alissa (01:19): Following several States, enactment of stay-at-home orders, Uber and Lyft lost 80% of their ridership at the height of stay-at-home orders and public transportation is keeping cities, moving, getting essential workers to their jobs and supporting essential services. But this is high risk for exposure to COVID even with protective measures and the sector overall has seen sharp decreases in revenue, ridership, and passenger trust. Meanwhile, the bicycle industry is thriving with bike sales surging more than 50% nationwide by March. Biking is a really effective way to take passengers out of crowded transit systems and maintain social distancing. So as businesses resume commuting could look a few different ways and therefore have different effects on the environment. On the one hand, people will continue to work from home. I think in shop online for basic needs, which means less cars on the road, less pollution, but there is the environmental impact of online shopping to consider.


Alissa (02:27): And then there are urban centers where people use public transit, but the capacity is kept for social distancing. So I think transit riders could turn to cars, which would actually worse implosion. And on top of that, people are second guessing, rideshare as an option because the drivers are responsible for cleanliness and hygiene. So looking at all this together, let's get real transportation is no longer about moving people and goods from one place to another. It's actually integral to a healthy, safe, equitable, sustainable city. So I think it's an opportunity to look at sustainable mobility, right? What are the, what are the access points here? So there's safety to consider not road safety, but, or even personal production and security, but literal contagion. And then there's efficiency where transportation stakeholders could find solutions to make transportation networks more resilient. And I also think there's universal access.


Alissa (03:38): So let's look at how can virtual connectivity, which has become such a part of our lives. How can virtual connectivity compliment physical connectivity to improve people's access to jobs and services? Several cities are thinking outside the box with what are called pandemic protected streets. These are close streets, so that pedestrians have more space for socially distant transit and exercise and recreation. Seattle and Oakland are each committing to 20 miles of streets. Close to cars. New York city has opened 67 miles of streets to protest Koreans across the five boroughs and is working up to a hundred miles in DC. Washingtonians actually started to engage in gorilla urbanism by putting cones down and simply claiming the roads as pandemic protected sidewalks. And then the city transportation department actually took over for them and is extending the roads. I think this is awesome because it not only provides more flexibility and accessibility for these challenging times, but it also promotes health and community.


Alissa (04:48): Anyone with a commute or, you know, in my case, being in LA, anyone who has sat on the four Oh five in gridlock, traffic knows that transportation really affects your quality of life. So in the new normal, how do we create safe quality spaces so that we, as a people stay healthy and vital. And in turn that environment does also, how do we redesign public transportation to lessen congestion and improve resilience? How do we as consumers and professionals redesign our day to day for workability? I don't think this is all or nothing. If there's one positive thing that's come out of COVID it's that many employers can no longer argue that working remotely doesn't work. So I think professionals can make requests to employers to take on a workweek that's half in the office and half at home, or maybe three days here, two days there that would actually make for a more fruitful, professional and personal life while also doing good for the planet.


Alissa (05:56): Now talk fossil fuels. Energy is critical to economic growth and prosperity, but the stability of global energy markets is critical to sustain and grow modern industry and society as our world is designed. Now, fossil fuels are integral to our economies as well. We can't live without them or so we think a transition from fossil fuels to clean energy sources is one of the pillars of the sustainability agenda in a pandemic sent shockwaves through the global oil and energy markets in the U S oil prices fell below zero for the first time in us history, meaning companies were actually paying buyers to accept oil. This is actually the third oil and gas fall in 12 years. A crisis that created an unprecedented alignment between OPEC, the organization of the petroleum exporting countries. And two parties with largely competing interests. They agreed to restrict oil output to buoy the price and stabilized global markets.


Alissa (07:04): You could look at this as a precedent for future collaboration on global energy security, or you could look at it as price rigging legitimized by two global entities that failed to maintain secure oil markets. You could look at it as an exposure of the fact that all OPEC members cheated on past promises to produce less oil. You could look at it as a crisis that forced unprecedented action on behalf of these parties, because there was no other choice, not because they chose to actually change the tide. All of this points to the fragility of the global market and the vulnerabilities. It causes countries and businesses rely on costly energy imports and are subject to volatile, fuel prices, coal oil, and gas also increased human vulnerability as outdoor air pollution from fossil fuel burning kills 4.2 million people globally each year. So COVID is inflating. What was already happening in the market with falling energy prices due to falling demand.


Alissa (08:11): Morgan Stanley actually reported in December that demand for natural gas is expected to fall 13% in the next decade with that said, despite growing attention on clean energy as of 2019 fossil fuels still accounted for 80% of global energy consumption and 75% of greenhouse gas emissions, you may have heard of some of the most common solutions to a clean energy transition. One is to ban fossil fuels and fracking, which would obviously make a world of a difference for the environment, but it would also lead to even more job loss in the fossil fuel market. Another solution presented is a forced transition to clean energy. Some environmentalists have actually considered buying out fossil fuel companies to keep fossil fuels in the ground, but because oil players are already restricting output in the market, in reality, this would help suffering oil players stay afloat. There's the consideration of what clean energy solutions are available for business and consumers where COVID has eaten into the feasibility of things.


Alissa (09:16): Things such as solar panels because doing home and business upgrades right now during these cash drop times, then there are carbon taxes. Finally, there are commitments from oil conglomerates to become more sustainable. This one is really good in February, just before coronavirus, BP announced a commitment to be a net zero company by 2050, meaning net zero carbon emissions. Well blame me for having some trust issues after the 2010 oil spill. So we'll see if this has more than a lick of green paint to appear more acceptable. And I do appreciate the commitment, but the key word is commitment, not promise. So let's get real. It's not the crashing price of oil. That's good for the sustainability agenda. It's the crashing demand. A balanced approach is the only way demand will dry up in the new normal, an approach that promotes not just sustainability, but economic growth, reliability, security, and stability and energy markets.


Alissa (10:27): We don't think it's about taking away all of what we have right now, but actually diversifying and expanding our capacity to produce energy. And through that expansion, having those sources be more sustainable because petroleum is a finite resource. So the question is we want finite expansion and vitality or infinite. That's a rhetorical question. Now with regard to electricity, there was a massive redistribution of energy and power grids when stay at home orders were putting in place from buildings to residential. This system too is vulnerable. We have to consider threats to infrastructure from extreme weather, the increasing risk of cyber attacks and the disruption to supply and demand balance that other external shocks besides COVID-19 could cause. So how do we restabilize and rebuild an energy system that's designed for resiliency and to evolve with our needs over time, rather than being a concern only in the wake of emergencies, because that does not work.


Alissa (11:39): We will get more into the consumer side of this in terms of clean energy and fossil fuels. We'll talk about things like appliances and cars, which are talked about a lot, but we'll also talk about the day to day. What are the products that you can buy? Where is it good to put your money? What kinds of legislation opportunities should you be looking out for things like that? Let's talk about education with online education. Most people are familiar with such benefits as convenience and flexibility. It also has measurable eco-friendly if it's in the new normal, how will eat learning influenced the environmental impact of the education system and the impact of learning on students and their futures in the current system, school supplies cost an average $1,000 per year, about the same as the average us monthly mortgage payment, certainly not in LA, but some places since 1978, the cost of college textbooks has arisen 812% with students paying up to $1,200 per year on books and materials.


Alissa (12:49): Most of which they only use one semester and may not even open. So virtually all schools switched to e-learning during the pandemic. E-learning means that students generate up to 90%, less carbon emissions without commuting. And therefore it can take that money and put it in the bank. There are less natural resources needed for a classroom setting. That's power and energy, plastic metal, and other materials paper makes up to 60% of waste produced by educational institutions. E-learning obviously saves literal tons of paper and the fossil fuels needed to process that paper. So it's more cost-effective. It's also more cost-effective for the schools and the students overall. Now let's get real e-learning does not replace the classroom experience. I think there is huge value in the quote old school methods of reading and writing. And don't even get me started on the smell of a fresh book, but there is ample opportunity to provide quality education that's more sustainable and equitable, and doesn't create financial burden for students and families for potentially the next decade.


Alissa (14:07): So how can we break the education mold and customize or tailor the learning experience to work with our means and to work with the environment? How can we redesign to make quality education accessible to all students so that more people can learn and more people can learn from best? How can teachers revamped curriculum? How can schools revamped curriculum to give students a practical education that prepares the next generation of leaders for real life? Things like no a pandemic right after I graduated college, my uncle Anthony and I were hanging out one day, he's an outdoors-y MacGyver type guy. And he had just bought a bow and arrow kit for his backyard, as one does while teaching me to shoot, you know, it was a nice Katniss Everdeen flex. We started talking about a zombie apocalypse as one does. And he said to me, half jokingly, half serious.


Alissa (15:14): No, really, if you know, if that was going down, what skills do you have that people would want to keep you alive for? And that you could protect your family? Uh, okay. Definitely not math 4.8 high school GPA. No, I speak three languages maybe. Oh, I make my student loan payments every month. You get my point. So that really stuck with me and don't get me wrong. I had an incredible education. I am so thankful for it. And at the same time had, I really gotten the kind of world that I was going to be stepping into and is as an adult and the responsibilities that go along with that, I probably would have worked harder to pursue a different kind of education. You know, I'm thinking, teach me how to balance a budget or how to grow my own food or how to have respectful debate with my classmates who have opposing views.


Alissa (16:14): You can save the $1,200 a year that you spend on supplies and books and put a toward education that will further who you can be in the world in real impactful ways. Fashion is one of the biggest opportunities for a more sustainable future. And one of the most important fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world. The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions in terms of consumption. The world consumes about 80 billion, new pieces of clothing every year, 400% more than we consumed just two decades ago. We also discard clothing at a shocking rate. The average American generates 82 pounds of textile waste each year with an abundance of cheap clothing. Now available. We're beginning to see the things we wear as disposable. Not only that workers along the entire value chain are often exploited with unsafe working conditions and unfair wages.


Alissa (17:17): COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the fashion industry. As a result of falling demand, retailers have canceled billions of dollars worth of orders. Many of which had already been completed or were in progress. Factories are now left with little choice, but to either destroy or keep hold of the unwanted goods already made and millions of factory workers have been laid off. This is an extremely high price for beauty. And if there were ever a time for the fashion world to reinvent itself, it's now one inspiring outcome I've seen as a proposal for the global fashion industry called rewiring fashion. A group of independent designers, executives, and retailers from around the world actually came together to collectively acknowledge that the fashion system is outdated and no longer serves the interests of designers, retailers, customers, and the planet. They're taking the opportunity of this global pause to rewire the fashion industry around two defining principles.


Alissa (18:17): The first is to reset the fashion calendar. Currently fashion shows occur too early in the year before clothing lines are actually released, meaning that demand has already dissipated by the time the collection becomes available. And that other brands are able to create cheap knockoffs, which not only hurts designers, but contributes to further environmental destruction. Additionally, the frequency of shows actually condenses selling periods and demands, frequent air travel, all of which has negative environmental consequences in the rewired fashion world men's and women's fashion weeks could be combined to enable longer full price, sell through periods, minimize travel requirements and degender gender fashion week. We could also align shows and deliveries with real world seasons. The second principle is to re-imagine fashion shows fashion imagery travels at lightning speed in the digital and social media age, which limits the return on customer desire created by fashion shows in a rewired fashion world shows could be restructured to actually engage customers.


Alissa (19:26): Alternatively, the governing bodies that control fashion shows could remove restrictions on the format and designers could be freed up to choose how best they want to present to their audience, incorporating more sustainable practices. A third point being discussed in the industry though, not by rewiring fashion is to refrain from obsessive and preemptive discounting retailers use early and frequent discounts to clear seasonal inventory, which trains customers to expect markdowns and actually withhold from purchasing the items at full price. There are already some exciting advancements with huge brands, declaring commitments to be more sustainable. Gucci has announced that it will go season-less Saint Laurent announced it is skipping Paris fashion week and setting its own schedule. These are two powerhouse brands that actually have the power to shift the balance of this conversation along with other brands that are just as big and up and coming brands, numerous high fashion brands, including Prada and Metro as well as up and comers have committed to digital fashion weeks in virtual shows.


Alissa (20:38): I think this is a powerful step that industry leaders are actually coming together. But for me, what's missing is a clear commitment to producing better and more responsibly. Also this proposal is purely geared toward industry, not the end user and the future of fashion realized just as much on consumers as it does producers. One of the things that is similar between apparel and food is that there are so, so, so many factors that go into people's consumption habits, right? In terms of their personal tastes style, what's available to them, any sensitivities, they have costs, all of that goes into it. So it's very complex, but that means also that there's opportunities on both sides to make a difference. So in the new normal, how can you, the fashion industry embrace a circular model where materials are reused and never end up as waste. How can the industry modernize and innovate to incorporate more sustainable practices that pay even bigger dividends by protecting workers across the value chain, preventing brand dilution, and even providing a competitive advantage?


Alissa (21:57): How can existing brands and up and coming designers innovate their textiles and business models to make sustainable clothing that doesn't sacrifice quality, style, fit, or comfort. And on a consumer level, there's an opportunity to recalibrate our material desires, to where quality and durability and craftsmanship and uniqueness and ethics are more attractive to us than things like quantity, how much clothing you can get. Bargains, exclusivity and replaceability health and wellness is one of my favorite topics for sustainability because it's different. It's not a completely obvious lens that people look through in terms of how to make a more sustainable world, but it's intrinsically tied to human behavior and how we treat the world in which we live. So I read something by Harvard recently talking about sustainability. Harvard said the health and wellbeing of people and the environment that surrounds them affects our collective ability to innovate and lead could not be more true.


Alissa (23:13): And let's unpack that a little bit. What keeps us healthy several factors, including our behavior and our genes determine whether we live in good health or not, but equally as important are the things outside of ourselves, right? Those forces such as the food we eat and the water we drink, the air we breathe and the places we live without health and wellbeing intact, not only can there be suffering and strife, but there's a stagnation or a loss in our collective potential and our potential individuals. In other words, we're stuck cleaning up our messes, surviving at odds with one another, things like that. On the other hand, when we're vital, when we're connected to healthy things and experience the benefits of them are more likely to value those things and invest in them and protect them in most parts of the world. We've lost that connection to nature.


Alissa (24:08): However, there's a report by the company REI in partnership with sustainability creative agency, Futerra on the relationship between humans and nature. They say that we are becoming an indoor species. The average American spends 95% of their life indoors. Yikes. That's insane. Today. Kids spend less time outside than prison inmates with the average child playing freely outside for just four to seven minutes a day. That's massive. This lack of time spent outdoors for children is linked to issues like anxiety, obesity, academic under-performance, and even bullying. And I think you could say the same. Most of that say the same for adults. Outdoor breaks are proven by studies to boost imagination and creative problem solving skills to teach valuable life skills and lessen stress. When people have mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety, when they have time outside, along with conventional medication, interacting with nature can actually help them control their symptoms or even recover.


Alissa (25:21): So let's get real how we treat nature is a direct reflection of how we treat ourselves. There really is no separation. I bet you that at any given moment, your health and wellbeing is correlated with that of the environment around you. Just think about it when we neglect or don't prioritize some aspect of health imbalances occur. I'll tell you an example. When quarantine hit, I realized that being stuck inside all day was not that different from my old life. I went to the gym before work than home, than to work where I sat for eight hours then to the store. And then home, I was inside all day. I treated nature as a fun activity or a weekend activity, right? And I was conscious of nature and my career in sustainability, but not so much in my daily life. It was really focused on sustainability, not actually living it for someone who's all about living.


Alissa (26:15): Naturally, you could say that was way against my personal brand in quarantine, forced my hand. So I made a point to spend as much time as I could outside safely, of course, and following all of the regulations, the impact of that is I'm actually more centered and effective at work. I have the presence and the headspace to take on everything that I need to do in my day and even more, which is counterintuitive considering I'm. I used to think taking more time just to step outside and take a walk around the block was going to be unproductive. And not only not their connection to the environment is that I am a terrible plant mom or I used to be, and I could not keep plants alive for the life of me, especially succulents, which are the easiest plants to keep live. I mean, you practically have to try and kill them in order to have that, not work.


Alissa (27:13): But since having all of this time outside, I have six or seven plants that are thriving so much so that I have to put them in new plants. Now this is a very, very simple example, but it's just to show you, or I guess provoke some thought as to what are the natural things around you and how are they fairing and how does that connect to how you're treating yourself? And beyond that, how does this connect to how we as a species are treating the environment? So what would transpire for our health and the planet, if we made spending time in nature as essential to a healthy life, as a balanced diet or daily exercise, how could we quantify the economic value of time in nature and actually rework it into our schedules? How can we in the new normal opt outside as REI puts it, how can we opt outside and create a contemporary relationship with nature?


Alissa (28:25): I mean, I'm not saying to go outside and sit there for 30 minutes and hug a tree, but what if we could actually say use technology to help people fall in love with nature? How can we reimagine the ways in which we can connect to nature and have it be more fruitful for our daily life? All right. This brings us to the last topic of this episode, intersectional environmentalism, intersectional environmentalism is an inclusive version of environmentalism that brings to light injustices done to the most vulnerable communities and the earth. It also identifies ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities are interconnected with injustices that happen to the earth. The conversation about climate justice is not complete without a conversation about racial justice. Now you might be thinking is the environment racist, environmental racism refers to the policies and industry practices that disproportionately place, the burden of waste climate crisis and pollution on black people, indigenous people and people of color also known as BiPAP, the environment, not racist, but the air we breathe and the water we drink are governed by people.


Alissa (29:47): So there are basic necessities that have been made inaccessible to BiPAP because of the privatization of basic goods, pollution, waste, and risk of disaster are assigned to communities of color, through discrimination and political neglect. All this is to say the environment itself is not racist, but people create racist environmental policies. Here's a few examples in the U S 47% of people who live critically close to hazardous. Chemical facilities are black or Latinx. Black people are exposed to 50% more air pollution than white people. 55% of people who live within 1.8 miles of hazardous waste facilities are people of color and communities of color are 40% more likely to have unsafe drinking water to add on top of this communities of color, have the least amount of infrastructure to manage the dangers that come with the climate crisis. They have the fewest resources to cope with droughts, floods, and other climate-related disasters.


Alissa (30:55): And these disasters will obviously worsen as the climate crisis progresses, meaning that people of color will continue to be hit hardest by the future effects of climate change and the larger climate crisis. Let's look at the racial inequity of the Corona virus. So new federal data from the centers for disease control and prevention and the census Bureau points to a clearer and more complete picture of how the black and Latino people in the U S are being harmed by the coronavirus at much higher rates than white people. The data shows that black and Latino people are three times as likely to contract the coronavirus than their white neighbors, and twice as likely to die. There are also circumstances that make black and Latino people more likely than white people to be exposed to the virus, including the fact that they often work jobs that can not be done from home.


Alissa (31:55): When comparing age groups, the disparities were even worse. Latino people between the ages of 40 and 59 have been infected at five times, the rate of white people and the same age group of Latina people who've passed away more than 25% were younger than 60 and among white people who passed only 6% were that young. So I would say that taken together, this data provides a more comprehensive look well, comprehensive and real time. Look at environmental racism. Now just to be real with you all, there's a lot for me to learn about the connection between racism and environmental ism and a lot to learn about all of the details and the minutia, the nuances of it, and also what the most effective solutions are. I am very open to admit that I'm limited by my own life experiences and my privilege growing up the way that I did.


Alissa (33:00): And I looked forward to having guests on the show who come from different backgrounds and who can offer some more well-rounded perspective on this issue. The whole point of this show is to get real, to call it like it is. So for me, there was a bit of a pause not to talk about this, but I didn't want to say the wrong thing. And that's the whole point. It's, we're getting real about this, where we're getting into the conversations that, that are complex, where the solutions sometimes are obvious, but sometimes they're not. And this conversation about sustainability is not complete without discussing how we relate to each other. As humans, we have operated like there's a separation between people of different races or different nationalities, different countries, but there really is no separation between us as human beings. So what I'm saying is that we can't pretend that this is not there.


Alissa (34:06): And the question is now, what are we going to do with it? We can not win as a bunch of individuals on this planet, or if people are left behind. So with regard to racism, with regard to making sure that communities around the world are thriving. If there's this attitude, like people are worrying about themselves, they're not looking outside themselves with a bigger perspective. There's an impact to that. How can we lift up the populations that have been disenfranchised so that we can step forward together? How can we make environmentalism intersectional so that it is not just about the betterment of the planet for future generations, but it's about the betterment of humanity. Okay. 12 industries down, zero to go. We made it. I asked you at the beginning of episode two to listen and think about what kind of world you want to create, how you want to make the world more sustainable.


Alissa (35:19): My hope is that you've gotten a ton of information while I, I know you've gotten a ton of information that with that information, you now have a new perspective as to what needs to be done and what could be done as to the areas that you feel most empowered to tackle. And that you have some clarity and even some vision as for how you want to start living your life. Moving forward. Most importantly, I hope that you have some perspective on how making any choices to be more sustainable will actually make your life better. That's what this is all about, right? It's fulfillment. So what I want to leave you with is I'm not going to sugar coat it. This is not easy. It's a monumental, it's huge. It's just the future of the planet that we live on and the human race, no big deal, but we really don't need to overcomplicate things.


Alissa (36:22): And in fact, nature teaches us to embrace our perfect imperfection. If you look to nature for guidance on leadership, it's very simple nature, experiments constantly, and it only continues with what works. I think there's no idea of perfection to achieve here. There's no perfect solution. The point is that we need to experiment to keep moving forward, doing things differently than we've done before. The only way to produce new results is to take new and different actions. Nature's adaptive. It's constantly learning and evolving in the 3.8 billion years. Nature's inhabited this planet. It has let go of billions of forms that no longer serve its larger purpose, nature, and adopts and experiments. According to results, we would be really wise to learn from this and apply it to our own development. So let's go forth and embrace experimentation. Let's embrace all of the reread opportunities that we have and actually move forward in a direction to build a world that we've never built before.


Alissa (37:40): Coming up in episode four, we're talking about hashtag Corona habits. These are trends that picked up during quarantine and are likely to stay in the new normal and how we can make them more sustainable. These are where your actions are going to start coming into play. You don't want to miss it from the bottom of my ego heart. Thank you so much for being with me today. I can't wait to see what we create together. If you loved what you heard and are hungry for more, don't forget to click subscribe in this app. Also, I want to hear from you, tell me your burning sustainability questions, or even what's inspiring you by following me on Instagram at get real with a S or liking the get real Facebook page. Talk to you soon.


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