Celia Dolan graduated from Stonehill College in December 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in environmental studies. While studying at Stonehill, she was a Moreau Student Minister, Writing Consultant and Writing Fellow, Teacher’s Assistant, member of the Handbell Choir, Real Food Calculator for Food Truth, and Community Engagement Coordinator. Celia participated in a HOPE trip that visited the peaceful, sustainable Agape Community in Ware, MA; traveled to Italy with The Mindful Palette: Food, Art, and Sustainability class; and went to Oregon and Northern California with the Coastal Pacific Northwest class. Another of her favorite classes was Nature Writing where she combined her love of the environment, art, and creative writing. She currently works as the Assistant Farm Manager at The Farm at Stonehill where she strengthens her passion for sustainability, farming, and food justice while exploring her interest in outdoor and agricultural education. When she’s not working, you can find Celia hiking, listening to music, reading, and writing in various ways (think: nature writing, poetry, and articles for NOFA, Ecopreneur, and other non-profit organizations).
Although it is easy to get caught up in the unprecedented events unfolding before us, instigated by COVID-19, we must continue to advocate for the environment and sustainability. During the pandemic, sustainable companies have the power to rewrite history. Those companies’ missions are important to support now, especially since the virus impacts climate change, both positively and negatively. In turn, climate change creates more favorable conditions for the spread of infectious diseases. It would seem that sustainability and eco-friendliness have more relevance now than ever, yet people are not reacting to environmental crises and climate change with the same alarm they have toward the virus.
Various reasons for these different reactions may exist. For example, some industries, like the plastic industry and producers of toxic cleaning chemicals, have more to gain by promoting the relevance of their product during this time. Another theory is that COVID-19 is simply more tangible and alarming. The virus is an immediate threat with more visible consequences, whereas the climate crises can be difficult to grasp and combat.
Although environmentalism is not necessarily forefront in people’s minds right now, it is important to bring some attention back to living sustainably. Consider some common themes and shifted habits during this time:
Waste – Generally speaking, people are consuming less during quarantine, and therefore are producing less waste. However, some waste is increasing. The mandatory return of plastic bags in grocery stores, restaurant takeout containers, and single-use gloves and masks leaves many environmental activists and zero-wasters feeling counterproductive and helpless.
Water Usage – Americans waste an average of 1 trillion gallons of water each year. This number is likely to increase during the COVID-19 outbreak. People are washing their hands, clothes, and household items more often for cleanliness and safety purposes, which is important for everyone’s health! Unfortunately, these actions also increase the amount of water consumed, and potentially wasted, every day. For example, Miami, Florida has already seen a 17 million gallon increase in its average water consumption. In contrast, nearly 844 million people cannot access clean freshwater.
Energy Consumption – People recognize that energy consumption has decreased in some sectors, like transportation, during quarantine. These shifts in energy consumption benefit our planet. But have you considered ways that your increased time at home may boost energy consumption in other sectors? Online shopping has increased, and an increase in emissions as packages are delivered, or picked up curbside, follows that trend. Furthermore, as people work remotely, they rely on computers, Internet, and other technologies even more than before. Did you know that it takes 70 billion kilowatt hours a year to run the internet? This number will likely increase with more online traffic during quarantine. According to SaveOnEnergy, “the energy generated from Netflix users’ total 80 million views of the Netflix thriller Birdbox is the equivalent of driving more than 146 million miles and emitting over 66 million kg of CO2.” And this is only one aspect of your energy use at home! The award to most at-home energy consumption goes to cooling and heating. Folks who might usually turn down the heat or AC while at work and school during the day won’t be doing so now that they’re home.
Food – During quarantine, people might have different grocery shopping habits than usual. Some are stocking up on nonperishable items. Have you noticed the disappearance of flour from store shelves? Others might turn to processed foods for comfort. Lots of people are ordering takeout in lieu of eating out. Many more people are starting home gardens. Some may even forage for edible and medicinal plants in their own yard. Keep in mind that many store shelves are empty and pressures of food insecurity are heightened. Despite that fact, there’s been a disturbing increase in food waste.
Perhaps the most important way consumers can fight these issues and be sustainable during quarantine is by tapping into their buying power and supporting sustainable companies. Purchase hygiene products from companies like By Humankind, Badger Balm, or Plaine Products, which hold themselves accountable for the ingredients and packaging of their products. Support clothing companies that are closed loop, like For Days, or use less water in production, like CHNGE. Commit to a challenge that invites you to be more sustainable at home, like REI’s Opt to Act Plan, or National Geographic’s Plastic Pledge. Follow news from our very own Ecopreneur Media to learn about companies that work to make a difference in the marketplace. Sustainable companies and consumers’ choices have the power to shift the narrative surrounding the climate crises and how it will be impacted by COVID-19. They have more importance now than ever!
Despite the challenges COVID-19 has brought us and may bring the planet, hope remains. Many people are turning to outdoor spaces with their families for refuge and enjoyment. People are working together on a global scale to deter the spread of this disease. The pandemic proves that we are all eager to work toward the greater good when our lives and others’ lives depend on it. We can work together in the same way to care for the environment! Remember, all is connected. Although we may feel disconnected from each other at this time, people are connecting more than before in new and exciting ways. Even though we’re practicing social distancing right now, no one is alone in the journey to care for our common home.
Do your part. Live sustainably during COVID-19. Support sustainable companies. Remind people that part of the fight against the pandemic connects to the fight against climate change.