Over the past few weeks, businesses have been streamlining to the extreme. As we adjust to conditions imposed to try and slow the spread of the coronavirus, companies around the world have had to radically change how they run on a day to day basis. From instructing employees to work from home, to abandoning brick and mortar stores and moving sales online, to reducing the range of services and products offered, businesses are getting creative to try and ride out this economic downturn, as well as re-aligning their priorities.
Yes, as business owners we are all working hard to do whatever we can to keep our businesses and our employees financially secure. But when something as uncontrollable and as unknown as Covid-19 comes along, many of us also take stock of what really matters to us. Alongside running our businesses, we’re also spending more time with family, home schooling children, keeping in better touch with our friends and trying to organise every element of our lives to comply with ever-shifting government guidelines. We’re streamlining our businesses and streamlining our lifestyles. But what does all of this mean for the environment?
Working From Home
I’m writing this article while sitting at my desk in my bedroom. In truth, I’ve been working from home for three and a half years, as a freelance digital marketer. This lockdown didn’t change my work habits but it has brought dramatic change for offices around the world. Slowly, over the past few years, working from home was beginning to catch on. Hot desking became popular and teams were encouraged to work from home at least one day a week. But for the most part, employees were expected to travel into an office in order to complete their work the majority of the time.
If your working day is primarily spent looking at a computer or on the phone, you may often have wondered on your commute why you can’t just work from home. Well, thanks to Covid-19, workers around the world have received the opportunity to do exactly this. Employers are discovering that their teams are capable of working efficiently from home and that tasks still get completed to a high standard and on deadlines. Suddenly, employers are recognising that offering working from home flexibility isn’t out of the question.
Of course, there is a learning curve which comes with this change and some people struggle to get into the rhythm of working from home. I won’t go into how I’ve managed for years as I’m sure your inbox has been flooded over the past month with repetitive working from home advice emails. The point is, it’s possible. And in doing this (in being forced to do this), we’ve eliminated commuting for vast swathes of the population. That means cars in garages and petrol in pumps. Commuting was often one of those elements of a person’s working day which was unavoidable. Even the most eco friendly among us couldn’t avoid travelling to work and unless they were able to walk or cycle, there would be some form of impact on the environment. Now, however, the roads are quiet and yet businesses still keep on going.
As a nation, as a civilisation, we’ve proved that working from home is possible. I sincerely hope that one of the lasting changes to come out of this terrible pandemic is for businesses to embrace the option of working from home. I do not suggest that no one ever enters an office again. There is much to be said for a sociable office environment where co-workers can collaborate and bounce ideas off one another. But if all offices were to allow flexible working conditions, I’m confident many more individuals would now opt to work from home a few days a week moving forwards. At least, after we’ve recovered from the cabin fever building up during the lockdown.
Reducing Stock Variety
Early on during the Covid-19 crisis, the urge to stockpile food and basic essentials swept across the UK. I’m not going to dive into the morality of doing this today but instead look at how supermarkets reacted to their shelves being stripped. One of the first things the large chains did was reduce the range of the stock they offered. We are used to walking into Sainsbury’s or Tesco stores and not only picking up whatever we want but choosing from a wide range of options of each item.
Take sausages, for example. Before Covid-19, Morrisons stores carried 60 types of sausages. Who needs that level of variety? And how are we supposed to choose between them? Morrisons stores now stock ‘a fraction of that’. They’ve also cut their pasta sizes and styles from 20 to 6 and their bakery line from 17 to 7. Why? Because it’s faster and more efficient to make fewer items. Sixty types of sausages requires a vast number of ingredients, many of which will be purchased in smaller quantities. Businesses have reduced the variety produced, enabling them to buy in bulk for cheaper prices and therefore higher profit margins. It also leads to less waste within the supermarket because only the most popular, best selling varieties are made and those obscure combos no one ever asked for (seriously, who can think of 60 sausage types?) aren’t left on the shelves.
From an environmental perspective, the incredibly wide range of foodstuffs now on offer in developed countries is problematic. Food production accounts for 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is already a worrying statistic but food is of course a necessity and production will continue. However, producing a wider range of different foodstuffs requires more energy than producing a streamlined range and comes with higher overheads. We’ve become accustomed to unlimited choice but would any of us notice if the square sausages (yes, square) which Morrisons sold were no longer available?
Perhaps after living for a few months where our choices are restricted, as a population we will realise that we don’t need unlimited variety in our supermarkets and instead will be simply happy to enjoy our newfound freedom once more without quibbling over where our rainbow unicorn sausages have gone (I made that up but who’s to say that wouldn’t be Morrison’s 61st variety?).
It’s not all doom and gloom
In no way do I look to belittle or downplay the severity of the pandemic. Like many of us, I watch the numbers in horror each day. But I know that this is not a ‘healthy’ mindset and as an intrinsically positive person, I felt I had to look for the silver lining. As always, I turned to the environment. Aside from the current impact of grounded airport fleets and empty roads, I decided to look forward and see how the lessons learned during this time could leave us with a legacy, as business owners, which enable us to not only streamline our businesses and generate more profit but also to make our businesses more environmentally friendly.
Covid-19 forced businesses to streamline, limited travel and rolled out working from home around the world. Will we be able to keep up these environmentally positive changes once the pandemic is over? And how can your business help to maintain the eco-friendly streamlining tactics in the future?
By Ruth Lemon of Ruth Lemon Consulting.