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Why SMEs can drive air quality improvement post-COVID-19

5 Mins

Freddie Talberg is the founder and CEO of EMSOL, a company that’s on a mission to help businesses reduce their transport emissions. He tells us why we should all be looking at the positive side of the COVID-19 lockdown, namely the massive reduction in toxic emissions globally…

Amongst the tragedy of this coronavirus pandemic, we have to draw positives where they exist.

It will be no consolation to the suffering population of Italy right now, but the sight of Venice’s canals running clear for the first time put into reality how quickly a reduction in human activity can have an impact on pollution.

In fact, the effects of nationwide lockdown spread far further than Venice’s iconic waterways. Research suggests a 25% drop in energy usage in China that could see a 1% decline in its carbon emissions by the end of the year.

Pollution reduces globally

In New York, early research into its lockdown measures shows carbon monoxide emissions down 50% on this time last year. As even tighter measures are imposed around the world– we should expect to see an even more dramatic fall in toxic emissions over the coming months.

However, we should be careful about the conclusions that can be made from this, after all, air pollution reduction is the result of a social policy intervention that has essentially shut down all economic activity, which isn’t sustainable nor good for societal wellbeing.

But it is important for us to think about the other side of this pandemic and what type of behaviour we need to see from businesses in the long-term; namely behaviour that balances economic and social wellbeing whilst having a meaningful impact upon pollution levels in our cities.

Changing our attitude towards emissions

The biggest concern climate researchers currently have is an overwhelming surge in pollutive activity once social distancing measures are lifted.

What we could see as the COVID-19 curve flattens, is a steep rise in emissions that compromises any progress made during this isolation period, as industry looks to make up for lost time production time.

We therefore must have practical solutions in place that alleviate this possibility. Taking control of emissions is difficult at the best of times and doing so will be among the last things businesses consider when they resume operations once the crisis is over.

How to manage emissions post-lockdown

There needs to be a way to deliver business growth and ensure a return to social normality while continuing to achieve crucial environmental targets whilst maintaining global health. Technology is one answer as it can be used to help companies track their emissions levels and their sources, enabling them to take action on air quality.

However, this is not a fight we can lead alone. The Government has called on manufacturers to turn their attention to producing ventilators and other equipment for frontline health workers – I would call on technology SMEs to help come up with additional environmental improvement solutions, so that we can flatten the inevitable emissions curve that will rise a few months down the line.

This will both benefit the expected damage that will be caused by a spike in emissions once the lockdown is lifted, and will also provide tech-enabled SMEs, whose operations may be reduced over the next few months, with a new revenue stream.

It may not seem the priority right now, but this pandemic does not change the fact that we are in an ongoing climate crisis, with just 10 years to keep the world from complete disaster.

The legacy of COVID-19

This has to be the lasting legacy of COVID-19: not a short-term improvement in air quality, but a long-term attitude shift in how we go about our lives once normality is restored. There needs to be a rebalancing where economic growth can occur, but in a way that helps the health of our environment and our respiratory systems.

We have been forced to act in a more environmentally responsible way for now – we need to choose to do this moving forward, and it is SMEs with technologically-driven solutions that can help us to do so.

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