Green Finance Advisor of Friends of the Earth (HK)

While the current public health situation has induced a temporary shutdown of the world’s major economies leading to significant economic stress for governments as well as substantial segments of the world’s population, it has also showed us how changing some of our habits can lead to a greener world.

For example, the BBC reported in February of NASA satellite images showing a dramatic decline in pollution levels in China as a result of the lockdown that bound ordinary citizens to their home and led to temporary closure of all non-essential businesses (BBC News, 2020).

BBC News, 2020

Separately, the FT reported that while air travel has grounded to a halt and risk affecting many livelihoods in the industry, the upshot is that air pollution has also fallen significantly (Ft.com, 2020).

While the impact on the aviation, oil & gas, travel, and retail industries are regrettable, the health pandemic does show us if we adjust our lifestyle to adopt greener living practices, such as:

  1. Reduce non-essential air travel: the no-fly movement is at the forefront to practice travel by avoiding flying altogether (Timperley, J., 2020). While this may be a drastic goal for many of us, we can always begin by cutting non-essential business trips for example from four trips a year to two trips a year and making more use of video conferencing tools that are getting better by the day.
  2. Reduce the amount of fast fashion we purchase: with the lockdown comes reduced social gatherings, which also reduces the need for us to dress to impress. But do we really need so many pair of jeans, or so many different pairs of shoes? The pandemic should help us to see what is essential in our wardrobe and figure out how to dress smartly but reducing waste at the same time.
  3. Finally, this natural experiment of working from home has shown that for certain industries, it is possible to function at normal capacity (Capradio.org, 2020). If employers can learn from this experience and adopt a flexi-approach to working from home, such as half the workforce works from home half the week and rotates onsite with the other half working from home in the second part of the week. This can reduce the carbon footprint of the daily commute, as well as less requirement for office space, which in turn reduces the pollution generated from construction and the day to day pollution from operating the lighting and ventilation provisions for offices.

If these practices are widely adopted as societies emerge from the pandemic lockdown, the investment implications should benefit those companies who score strongly in ESG compliant measures, and overtime, ESG investing will not only be seen as allocation of capital to mitigate against unsustainable practices, but instead as a wholistic investment in the economy of the future.

References

BBC News. 2020. Polluting Gases Fall Rapidly As Coronavirus Spreads. [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-51944780> [Accessed 11 May 2020].

Capradio.org. 2020. The ‘Unprecedented Natural Experiment:’ Stay-At-Home Order Reduces Air Pollution, Offers Clues In Climate Change Fight. [online] Available at: <https://www.capradio.org/articles/2020/04/14/the-unprecedented-natural-experiment-stay-at-home-order-reduces-air-pollution-offers-clues-in-climate-change-fight/> [Accessed 11 May 2020].

Ft.com. 2020. Aircraft Emissions Fall Sharply As Pandemic Grounds Flights. [online] Available at: <https://www.ft.com/content/c736cd3c-1457-440b-af07-4061afb35bc9> [Accessed 11 May 2020].

Timperley, J., 2020. Why ‘Flight Shame’ Is Making People Swap Planes For Trains. [online] Bbc.com. Available at: <https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190909-why-flight-shame-is-making-people-swap-planes-for-trains> [Accessed 11 May 2020].