It is hard to believe that it is only in the last 10 weeks that businesses across the UK (and around the world) have been really wrapping their heads and arms around the organisational and financial crises caused by the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The pace of change is genuinely astonishing. A number of CEOs have said that they’ve made a decade of change in that 10 weeks.
Amongst a raft of UK Government measures to support business announced on 20th March, the Chancellor’s Job Retention Scheme (JRS) has been a buoyancy aid of stupendous proportions. According to recently published ONS statistics, over 20% of the UK workforce (about 8m people) may have taken furlough leave, representing an eyewatering estimated cost of £40bn+. The end date of this programme has been extended from 31st May to the end of June (so far…)
Now pages on-line and in newspapers have been written about the JRS itself, so we don’t intend to go over that ground.
However, we have given some thought to the communications challenges inside organisations as the effects of furlough unfold, Many of these challenges are found in the context of remote working and lockdown, and how they are handled has real potential for shifting public sentiment.
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Despite the new landscape of the current COVID-19 pandemic, a silver lining has emerged to soothe the anxiety and loss that our society has experienced. The slowdown of our economy has led to benefits for our air quality, with some UK cities seeing a 60% reduction in air pollution. Environmental change will no doubt be a focal point in the coming months.
To maintain this trend, we will have to look to technological solutions to increase consumers’ resource efficiency and reduce their environmental footprint as we return to a ‘new normal’.
The subject of waste is currently being addressed by the Government’s Environment Bill. The Bill was re-tabled after the 2019 General Election and is currently receiving parliamentary scrutiny. A major component of the last Government’s Waste and Resources Strategy is the establishment of a UK Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), which is a novel consumer waste return and recycling system that could be a game-changer for our country’s efforts to create a circular economy and reduce our environmental impact
A DRS is a system that rewards consumers to return and recycle drinks packaging and other containers by placing a monetary deposit upon purchase and returning these monies to the consumer when the packaging is returned. A UK scheme could incentivise consumers to independently return their waste and demonstrate the inherent value of recyclable materials, such as plastic, glass and aluminum, and ensure that waste is recovered and fed through a closed, circular loop to ensure maximum use.
Existing schemes in Europe have transformed recycling rates for example Lithuania (92%), Germany (96%), and Norway (97%) now see recycling rates for packaging above 90%. In contrast, the UK’s kerbside collection system returns and recycles a meagre 45% of our packaging (2018) and this is on the slide.
A recent impact assessment on the effectiveness of a UK DRS, conducted by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, found that our return and recycling rate could skyrocket to 85%. Many of the European schemes noted above were established in the last century. A well-thought out, digitalised UK DRS is an opportunity to establish a green circular economy.
A digital UK DRS requires the full implementation of technologies that already exist or are in the pipeline. For example, advanced reverse vending machines (ARVMs), produced by the likes of Tomra, Envipco and Diebold Nixdorf, are located in supermarkets and shopping centres and provide a point of return for consumers to recycle their packaging. ARVMs collect, scan, count and mechanically prepare recyclable containers for processing, while repaying consumers’ deposits into their debit accounts or banking apps.
Given that each returned container will contain consumer data (purchase, usage, product lifecycle), an integrated DRS can provide a treasure trove of information to store operators, drinks producers, logistics firms and policymakers. A high deposit amount would likely encourage footfall in stores and, in the process, deliver crucial data on consumption and usage to support retail and industry’s extended producer responsibility obligations that are also mandated in the Environment Bill.
Already, supermarkets rely on loyalty apps to map consumer habits and an official DRS app or an existing supermarket app could feed purchase and other data into the scheme’s database and further encourage consumers to recycle through a consumer gamification model.
There are often pitfalls that impact smaller actors in the market when technological innovations are introduced. For example, local shops have noted that ARVMs are too large for their stores and take up valuable space. A UK DRS will certainly have more issues attached to it, such as it cannibalising the revenues acquired by local authorities’ kerbside collection schemes, but it offers a solution to drive recycling rates and enhance data-driven marketing, logistics and environmental audit systems.
Once the DRS is established, we can expect 36,000 reverse vending machines to be gradually rolled out across the UK and many of these will be ARVMs. Given the valuable data produced and ease at which deposits can be refunded to consumers by the latter, deploying ARVMs should be the preferred option for retail, industry and government.
Innovation in waste recycling and reduction should be embraced now, if we are to maximize the environmental gains attained during this uncertain and difficult period and ensure our economy becomes fully circular.
Madano’s Energy & Environment practice advises clients across the recycling technology and waste management sector, to find out how our specialists could support your business understand the impacts and opportunities of the Environment Bill please contact – [email protected].
Is the response to COVID-19 a precedent for Governments to take drastic actions to tackle climate change?
COVID-19 has seen unprecedented change to our lives. The UK has effectively shut down large sections of the economy, effectively nationalising the wages of large parts of the private sector and introduced personal restrictions on citizens’ ability to move freely and leave their homes. Most countries have adopted a similar approach.
Given the gravity of the situation, which has now been compared to a war economy, a question has emerged: ‘How will COVID-19 change us?’
Some public figures, especially those advocating greater levels of state intervention or control (especially of the economy), look to the creation of modern social democratic states, with their vastly expanded welfare systems, using the Second World War as a precedent.
Whether they are correct or not has yet to be seen – there are those who disagree with that assessment. Some will be quick to point out that the UK Government’s approach aims to keep private enterprises afloat during the crisis and is not taking the opportunity to nationalise strategic industries. That is certainly not full blown Corbynism.
Whatever the fundamental changes society undergoes post-COVID-19, there can be no debate that a global precedent has been set. In response to a major health emergency, Government can do a lot in response and money appears to be no object. In the months ahead, there will be those who will begin to ask if that sort of response ought to be applied to other types of emergency.
Specifically, should Government respond to the ‘climate emergency’ in a similar fashion?
In order to tackle what many would argue is the greatest existential threat to humanity itself, and certainly our way of life, perhaps Government making similar interventions in our lives and the economy is necessary.
After COVID-19, It may be much easier to justify massive amounts of spending on tackling environmental issues, spending that could be for rolling out EVs, widespread home insulation or just direct investment into low carbon generation. The voting public may be happy for, or even expect, large sums of money to be spent in order to tackle this ‘emergency’.
Measures could go even further. Following the precedent set by the response to COVID-19, the public might demand that drastic measures can and should be implemented by governments to tackle climate change. There might be calls for the state to curtail certain economic activities, or limit access to certain types of transportation.
As governments have expanded the safety net for those who lose their employment due to an emergency or crisis, as we have seen in response to COVID-19, this sort of extreme measure could be easier to justify.
It will all depend on how the world changes post COVID-19. A shift to a more interventionist state is plausible, but equally possible is a strong public reaction towards the state’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis. The public may in time revolt against the economic disruption, which will likely lead to the loss of many jobs and the closure of many businesses, and curtailments of personal liberty.
In that scenario, it is equally plausible that any efforts for future governments to tackle climate change through the introduction of higher spending (and more taxation) or limiting certain economic or social activities, may be politically impossible. Climate change may viewed be too far away, or too abstract for the voting public to support any more restrictions on their lives.
It is interesting to note that the reason why Government has reacted so quickly to COVID-19 and not to climate change is that the threat is and was so immediate whereas the impacts of climate change have been slow to materialise. That may make it a hard sell to a public wary of increasing spending, or restrictions on their day to day lives.
So, in answer to the question ‘how will COVID-19 change us’ – when it comes to climate change, the answer is probably quite a lot.
If we think about the impact COVID-19 has had on our daily lives, most of us are now working from home, exercising outside once a day and swathes of the UK workforce is now coming to terms with the concept of furlough. But with many businesses seeking ‘business as usual’, there have been many projects that were due to go out to public consultation with the associated months of planning – leaving village halls booked for consultation events that people cannot now attend.
Given the pressures on project timelines, dates of investment decisions, and depth of work required to present development proposals there appears to be an emerging disconnect between developers and local planning authorities. It comes as senior council officials from multiple local authorities have called upon EDF to delay the next stage of their plans for a new nuclear power station, Sizewell C, until after the COVID-19 pandemic. The rationale for this position stems from fears that Government social distancing measures and the wider concerns around COVID-19 will distract from the need for rigorous review as well as challenge and debate around the proposals for the facility by the community and core stakeholders to inform the application process.
However, local authorities were recently handed new powers to hold public meetings remotely and we are now seeing councils adapting to this outbreak by now hosting committee meetings remotely and moving from crisis management and adaption to business continuity mindsets and the adoption of new ways of working to ensure vital government decisions can continue.
If we take Sizewell as an example, could bullish developers plough through with sensitive proposals and local authorities be too cautious, risking opening rifts in relationships that will be needed through the construction and operation of nationally significant assets? In his parting remarks the Government’s chief planner encouraged ‘innovation and exploring all options of technology to ensure the continuation of effective consultation.’ It is clear, especially now, that ongoing dialogue and engagement with core stakeholders is needed to understand challenges and work together to deploy new ways of bringing developments to committee compliantly.
We are all adapting to new ways of working, whether that be using an ironing board as a desk or getting to grips with video calling. When we consider the options, available there are plenty of opportunities to transform conventional consultation phases into rich digital conversations and at Madano, we are currently helping projects work through these challenges to keep timelines progressing.
Local authorities are fully aware of the danger if we lose the rich engagement and rigour of critique through full and enthusiastic engagement around developments. However, the range of options to maintain, or rethink consultation at this unsettling time can be exciting and enhance discussions with digital exhibitions, presentations to communities with video conferencing and telephone sessions pre-arranged for stakeholders. Whilst this is all very positive, we should still remember that as we transition our consultation activity online to continue the conversation, we should keep in our minds that not all stakeholders choose to, or, have access to internet. We must ensure our consultation activity remains accessible by keeping hard copies, mailing lists and telephones in our strategies.
Most solutions are scalable and flexible, but developers should engage with local planning authorities, and where relevant, the Planning Inspectorate, early in the development of community engagement programmes to ensure that new ways of working are relevant, accessible and appropriate to their proposed development.
Madano advises clients in the development sector currently transitioning their engagement programmes to adapt and embrace the challenges of COVID-19 – if you’re interested in learning more please drop me or the team a line. You can also follow Madano on Twitter.
Rishi Sunak MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, has delivered the new Government’s first Budget, since the December 2019 election. Despite only being in post since February 2020 and having to tackle the emerging Coronavirus crisis, Sunak set out what a 5-year Conservative Government means for the technology, energy and environment sectors.
Take a look at our analysis of what the Budget means for the Energy & Environment and Technology sector in our mailer by clicking here (also pictured below):
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