COVID-19 has changed the national conversation, but what does this mean for the way that environmental messages are communicated?  Before the pandemic struck, single-use plastic pollution was the media focus and whilst this conversation hasn’t gone away, new concerns have emerged.  As part of the ongoing Hubbub Explores series, we brought together a wide range of organisations to discuss how environmental communications will adapt to the new reality.

1) Expecting the unexpected

There was widespread agreement that climate change has not been sidelined by COVID-19.  The pandemic has shown the brutal effect of a significant risk that many thought could be dealt with sometime in the future.  Climate change is no different. If we reach the tipping points identified by scientists, catastrophic future disruption will occur. Organisations have realised that this is too great a risk to take and that climate strategies must remain priorities, even during recession.

2) Making connections

COVID-19 has exposed deep divides within society.  People have rallied around those who work in the NHS, essential workers and the vulnerable.  Many of these groups are also the most exposed to environmental degradation.  It is the unhealthy who are at risk to poor air quality, it is those struggling to pay bills who lack insurance against flooding and it is people in poor quality housing who pay for energy wasted because of badly insulated homes.

Communication needs to highlight that sustainability is a social as well as an environmental issue.  A fairer society will ensure that food that would have been wasted is available to those who most need it, that everyone has access to clean air and green spaces regardless of financial circumstance, that unused technology can help to connect the digitally isolated and that carbon emissions will be cut by ensuring our housing stock is well insulated.

3) Seeing is believing

People instantly saw the impact of the UK lockdown on their local environment.  Air quality drastically improved, noise levels dropped and nature became more apparent.  The rapid change demonstrated what happens when people alter their behaviour and the improvements to the environment and consequent effects on people's wellbeing were hugely popular.

Environmental communication should build on this support. Pressure needs to be exerted on decision-makers to ensure that the economic rebuild from COVID-19 retains these benefits and that we don’t resort to business as usual.

4) Connecting with nature

COVID-19 has starkly shown our interconnection with nature.  The more that the natural world is exploited the greater the risk that new viruses will emerge.  Environmental communication needs to highlight this interdependence and show that protecting the natural environment is essential to our future wellbeing.

Many companies have already realised the importance of this interconnectivity. They understand that they must preserve water supplies, nourish the soil and reduce pollution if they are to survive.  This message needs to be mainstreamed.

5) Creating green jobs

At times of economic recession environmental initiatives can be seen by many as an unnecessary ‘nice to have’ and that priority should be given to ‘shovel-ready’ construction projects such as road building.  This is a false argument, which needs to be debunked through more sophisticated environmental messaging.

In reality, green initiatives such as retrofitting houses and conservation projects are labour intensive and able to employ large numbers of people rapidly.  The Green Homes Grant scheme announced by the government this week is intended to create 100,000 jobs. It’s an encouraging step in the right direction. These jobs have wider benefits too helping to enhance green spaces, cut carbon emissions and reduce air pollution.  A green recovery would also be an economic recovery and this message needs to be landed more strongly.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has had a significant effect on daily lives and the way we see the world.  This Hubbub Explores discussion reaffirmed the view that creating a more just and sustainable future is central for many organisations, but if this ambition is to be mainstreamed, environmental communications needs to highlight how a green recovery also has social and financial benefits.

We are running one more Hubbub Explores workshop, on the topic of our homes. We will be pulling together all the findings into a Greenprint that will be shared with businesses, government and community groups. Click below to attend or find out more.



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