Covid-19 and Our Carbon Footprint

The last few weeks have been trying for everyone, and I was also distracted, so I have not posted in a few weeks. I had started a review of various mobile applications to help manage my carbon footprint, but that quickly became less relevant with Covid-19. However, with countries shutting down, people not eating out, and not traveling I started thinking about how this will impact climate change on the “other side.”

With all the challenges Covid-19 brings there are some pretty amazing stories highlighting mother earth’s ability to bounce back. Whether it is fish coming back to the canals of Florence, or the air clearing in India, so they can see the Himalayas, if we make material changes to our behavior we can make a big positive impact on the climate. As a friend told me, Mother Earth will win, the question is what impact will it have on us?

Covid-19 will have a long-lasting impact creating a “new normal”. With people eating at home, ordering more online products, and working from home, it seems lessons learned will change the way we live for many years. Let’s look at potential benefits to climate change.

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Working from home has been a growing trend for many years, but obviously became mandatory with Covid-19. The tools are much better, and the behavior on how people interact is very different. Even though I worked from home before the shutdown, the number of online meetings I have been on where people turn on their cameras has skyrocketed. At work we also are having “virtual” coffee breaks, which helps foster the informal discussion that often leads to innovation or better communication that happens in the office. While not a substitute for face to face meetings, people are learning they don’t need to be in the office every day, or don’t have to fly every time to meet with a customer.

Increased work from home will ultimately reduce commuter miles. According to TrueCar Advisor, 76.4% of Americans commute driving alone in a car. The average length of commute is 26.9 minutes covering 16 miles. For a single person who increases their work from home by 1 day per week, that will cut their carbon footprint by 0.68 metric tons of CO2. Overall this would represent a 15% reduction, based on typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

With being in lock-down, and with greater health concerns on going to the grocery store, more people are eating at home, and ordering food for home delivery. Initially, I thought the home delivery trend will have a negative impact on the climate. As more people get comfortable ordering from home, the trend will increase after the epidemic is over. However, there there is an argument this will have a positive impact, with less driving to stores by individuals offsetting the increased trucks doing deliveries. Culturally over the last 25 years, more and more people shop multiple times a week for their food. Stores are open later at night, and usually 7 days a week. Based on the US Department of Transportation, 45% of daily trips are taken for shopping and errands. Ordering groceries online, takes some more planning and certainly doesn’t happen each day for a household. If I and many of my neighbors are making 4-6 trips to the grocery store each week using our cars, it seems that it would be more climate efficient for a single delivery service like Instacart to deliver to multiple homes in the neighborhood. This will take time to become more efficient, but this is where the innovation of capitalism will help drive efficiencies. Initially (meaning now), there is a dramatic increase in stores and services offering home delivery. This actually increases the vehicles driving through neighborhoods. However, over the medium term, the route densities and payback will drive out those that are not efficient. It is common for third party companies to fill the void in this area, delivering for multiple grocery or pharmacies in one region.

Finally, I hope the human compassion aspects that have emerged from the Covid-19 crisis will sustain themselves: working together to solve a global problem, sacrificing consumerism for “the greater good”, and valuing time together at home.

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