Rebuilding the economy after the 2008 financial crash resulted in global carbon emissions rising by 6% year-on-year with precious little change to the institutions that caused the crash.  As the economy responds to the far more significant impact of COVID-19 we could follow a similar growth-at-all-cost model.  This would be a lost opportunity.  Instead, the rebuilding could create a fairer society that reduces the risk of major environmental disasters which always hit the vulnerable the hardest. 

Over the coming months, Hubbub will be polling the country, talking to businesses and asking people what they would like to see in a post-COVID-19 UK.  See how you can be involved below, and our findings will be released in a Greenprint to be shared with policy-makers and influencers.  To kick things off, here are some initial thoughts.

Valuing what really matters

One fundamental change caused by COVID-19 is that society is likely to re-evaluate what truly matters.  Will wages and support provided to people at the frontline of the struggle reflect the crucial role they play in society?  Will the enforced lockdown change our view of consumption?  In 2019, the UK used the equivalent of 18.5 tonnes of material for every person in the country.  This is not sustainable or sensible.  How can we shift our society and economy to a model that is fairer and more resilient?

Hubbub is already hearing major businesses recognise that they are facing a fundamental shift in societal values.  How are they going to prove that they place ethics above excessive profits, that they see long-term investment as more important than short-term gain and that they genuinely support communities?

A more resilient food system

In the 1950s the UK produced more than double the food we ate.  We now produce less than half the food we consume, and waste an estimated 1.9 million tonnes of food every year.  We have a society where many people are struggling to feed themselves, and a significant level of obesity.

As a result of COVID-19, the availability of food has provoked public interest in our food system.  The dependence on food banks has highlighted the number of people struggling to provide meals for their families.  The farming industry announced that almost a third of the harvest could be wasted due to their reliance on around 60,000 migrants.  The closure of restaurants and take-away services has seen an upsurge in home-cooking, a shift to local retailers and the growth of veg-box schemes.    

This crisis has thrown inequalities in access to food into sharp relief, along with significant barriers to redistribution of surplus. Post-COVID-19, we should be looking to substantial investment in programmes and infrastructure that boost community resilience around food.  Community kitchens, fridges and managed urban growing spaces can all improve people's knowledge of and access to affordable and healthy food. Community-run redistribution schemes can go towards tackling the challenge of transporting surplus that “final mile” to those who need it most.

Perhaps we could copy the example of Singapore and set a national target for the amount of food we self-grow.  Potentially free of the shackles of the Common Agricultural Policy we could create a more sustainable farming sector and invest in new ways to produce food, such as vertical farming and lab-grown foods.

Greener towns and cities

Even before COVID-19 our High Street was struggling.  The virus will exacerbate the situation with many retailers likely to close due to loss of revenue and the massive shift to online purchasing.  We need to reimagine our towns and cities. 

Can we democratise the High Street by engaging with local communities to decide how they would like to use empty retail space?  Can we ensure that our urban centres provide services for all sections of society rather than shrines for consumption?  Is this the opportunity to re-introduce proven services such as Sure Start and offer creative spaces giving skills and confidence to the many sections of our society that have been excluded in our current economic model?

Should we be inspired by Utrecht’s ‘No Roof Unused’ ambition to plant and green the entire city creating a healthier environment for all.  Greener cities will reduce air pollution which studies indicate exacerbate the impact of COVID-19.  More urban planting will address some of the impacts of climate change by reducing flash floods, offering more local food and cutting extreme urban heat.

Changing the way we travel

COVID-19 has changed the way many people work with a dramatic uptake of online communication tools.  This has drastically reduced our need to travel - significantly cutting carbon emissions and slashing air pollution.

How can we retain the most positive elements of this change?  Should we rethink our work patterns and the way we provide public services to reduce car use in our cities, relieve strain on over-used public transport and remove the requirement for major investment in transport infrastructure projects such as HS2 and Heathrow?

Could investment be used to upgrade our housing stock, making it more habitable, energy efficient and equitably available?  Can we rethink the way that we offer health advice and support to vulnerable households providing online access to vital services they currently struggle to receive because of poor mobility or infrequency of local transport systems? 

A new energy system

The COVID-19 crisis in China crushed the demand for every energy source except renewables.  Almost three-quarters of new electricity generation capacity built in 2019 used renewable energy, representing an all-time record.  We are gradually seeing an energy transformation, but less so in the companies that supply it and how the profits they generate are distributed. 

Is now the time to rethink our energy system?  Could community-owned energy be the way forward?  In response to COVID-19, four UK-based community solar groups were able to distribute £100,000 of support from their profits to help address the crisis locally.  Isn’t this better than profits being diverted outside of the UK or to shareholders?

Bringing fashion home

The COVID-19 crisis has brutally exposed sectors that are exploitative in the way they treat supply chains and employees.  Nowhere is this more apparent than the fashion industry. 

The lack of sustainability in this sector has increasingly come under the spotlight and it is likely that COVID-19 will fundamentally change the way that fashion operates.  Could this be a chance for the UK to take a lead on creating a more sustainable sector by bringing some textile production back to its traditional heartland, investing in more sustainable fabrics and creating a circular solution for materials that have reached the end of their life?

Get involved

These are massive questions impacting every aspect of our lives.  Hubbub is intent on throwing them open to debate, providing ideas and doing what we can to ensure that the rebuilding of our economy is for the greater good of society and the environment.  If you would like to take part in our workshops or consultation please let me know at [email protected]