By Philip Richards, Client Director
As the UK enters its 7th week of lockdown, on Sunday Boris Johnson will outline his exit roadmap. The Prime Minister has stated that he will make it clear to the nation the “menu of options” he will have to choose from when he eventually decides to begin lifting the current restrictions.
Suggestions have been made that when lockdown is lifted a phased approach will be applied with “social bubbles” of groups comprising of family and close friends. However in terms of returning to work, what will this look like…? Will this mean more space required between desks? How will people travel to and from work? Let’s face it the London Underground is unlikely to meet a 2m or even 1m distancing. The Prime Minister revealed that part of his plan would be for people to wear face masks to give them “confidence that they can go back to work”. However the evidence around the effectiveness of face masks in preventing the spread of the virus is still up for debate.
What is certain during these uncharted times is that a stop to our everyday lives has clearly had a substantial impact on the environment through an improvement in air quality and also water quality (based on statistics from Italy’s canals and reports of returning marine life – including a recently spotted octopus during lockdown).
Research across the globe is showing improved air quality readings and reports of greater visibility, which demonstrate the clear link between the actions taken in our everyday lives in order to tackle COVID-19 and the reduction in carbon emissions. Figures from the European Environment Agency suggest a circa 50% reduction in CO2 in London alone.
On the flip side, with China returning from lockdown there is skepticism around air quality soon reverting back to previous pollution levels once the economy kick starts again.
Unfortunately it has taken a pandemic to create real action, with the fight against one war inadvertently supporting the other war – the climate crisis. This crisis was very much a key focus until the pandemic hit and was seen as a top risk in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report for 2020.
The climate crisis should not be lost through this pandemic and should actually help us to shape the future of our world and thinking. It clearly shows how balanced our lives are with our fragile planet.
It is shocking to see that most urban areas in the UK reported illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution pre-lockdown, produced primarily by diesel vehicles.
The pollutant results in asthma and stunted lungs in children and is linked to many impacts on health; including low birth weight in babies and premature deaths. In fact, urban air quality is the top environmental risk factor for premature deaths in Europe.
The annual cost of air pollution to the UK economy is circa £53bn, or 3.7% of GDP.
Studies indicate that the pollution of air is also linked with COVID-19, impacting the chances of survival rates following contraction of the disease in patients.
Although the air pollution for cities is mostly from road vehicles, it should not be forgotten that aviation, manufacturing and real estate from workplaces to homes also played a part in improving air quality during lockdown.
It is a shame that during this time of grounding airplanes and docking ships that more isn’t being done to R&D the options for clean travel. There is something to be said when tabloids are heavily focused around the normality of people being able to go on their summer holidays instead of taking this opportunity to address those very areas consistently polluting the air/sea. It was however promising to read last week that the French Government has stated Air France will have to cut its carbon emissions as a condition for state-guaranteed financial support. Let’s hope other government’s follow suit.
With trials on COVID-19 still very much in their infancy the growing demand in protecting ourselves and our planet further will become more apparent.
Recent studies have identified that COVID-19 has also had circa 30-40 mutations since the first reported cases in China making it tougher to test and therefore find suitable vaccines. Various analytics suggest that the virus could even come back in as many as 6 waves throughout the next year even with a vaccine for certain strains.
What is clear is that we must not wait for the exit of COVID-19 to be the driver for change. Whilst this crisis has potentially made us all respect that we are not invincible and neither is our planet; we must demand a faster solution to the improvement of air quality from our governments, businesses and each other to truly drive change for the better.
The balance of our work and home life is intrinsically linked and having had to place a whole country and even world on a work-from-home basis means this really should be an opportunity to disrupt the infrastructures as they currently stand. Close proximity is unavoidable in many forms of transportation and unfortunately using free modes of travel such as walking or cycling are impacted by air pollution or restrictive accessibility given cycle lanes don’t actually abide to the 1.5m wide distancing.
Questions are undoubtedly going to be asked by employers/employees and concerns still fraught around returning to work; from occupying spaces to commuting and general health and wellbeing.
The various sectors of the economy and specifically real estate will need to look at their assets and how these are made more flexible and adaptable to manage the future requirements of office occupied spaces. This will include providing spaces with cleaner air quality and adaptability for commuters to access their work locations (bike storage for example) or even flexibility on the time working in the offices which will reduce travelling during high polluted times such as rush hour. Unfortunately the desire to have more open community spaces may now be restricted to accommodate social distancing. Thoughts also go to the smart technologies required to help manage the activities sometimes taken for granted such as touchless doors, better air filtration systems and user controls / visibility of indoor environments.No matter how many different theories, concepts or news there is around at the moment, the key is:
> being vigilant including applying best practice market intelligence;
> taking caution where necessary;
> keeping body and mind healthy;
> using common sense whilst all the while listening and following the latest government guidelines and science; and
> above all be kind to one another.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the key workers out there doing a tremendous job during this pandemic, by putting themselves on the front line everyday to protect us. We are an exemplar nation and we should take pride in this.