Andrew Muir | Taking the new normal on board

Stanley Street in Richmond Hill was eerily quiet during lunchtime on Monday as the new level 4 restrictions took effect
GHOST TOWN: Stanley Street in Richmond Hill was eerily quiet during lunchtime on Monday as the new level 4 restrictions took effect
Image: EUGENE COETZEE

The only certainty is uncertainty, the only constant is change — we’ve all heard this before, but nothing has brought it home as definitively as the Covid-19 pandemic.

A virus has literally turned the world on its head, and change really is the “new normal”, as much as it doesn’t feel normal at all.

At the outset of the pandemic, there was much talk of the new normal and what it would look like.

Some believed this new normal would be short-lived; the world would revert to its pre-Covid state, perhaps with a few tweaks — wider adoption of remote working and online shopping, greater awareness of hygiene, say.

Others believe the world has permanently changed, in deeper, more fundamental ways, and I agree.

Given the interconnectedness of the world, the mobility of people and goods on a global scale, and the encroachment of humanity on the natural environment, we need to accept that Covid-19 is not going to be the last pandemic we see.

Public health measures such as masks, sanitising and physical distancing are not going away.

Climate change is real and will increasingly affect how we do business.

Automotive manufacturers, for example, who export to other markets will be under increasing pressure to build electric vehicles.

Replacing air travel with virtual meetings has long been talked about as one of the ways that business can mitigate its environmental impact, but action was slow until the pandemic forced rapid and widespread adoption.

Incidentally, it seems that the pandemic had a positive impact on shrinking our ecological footprint, with Earth Overshoot Day (calculated by the Global Footprint Network as the date on which humanity’s consumption of ecological resources and services exceeds what can be regenerated in a given year) arriving on August 22 in 2020, more than three weeks later than in 2019.

That small extension is believed to be due to coronavirus-induced lockdowns, with people flying and driving less, buying and consuming less, affecting fossil fuel-driven emissions and harvesting/extraction of natural resources.

It’s a small shift and so far, unfortunately, not long-lasting (Earth Overshoot Day has moved back to July 29 in 2021), but it’s indicative that small actions by many people can make a big difference over time.

That shift also highlights the scarcity of resources, which is likely to drive a move to increasingly localised sourcing, with impacts on the primary (for example agriculture) and secondary (for example manufacturing and construction) sectors through to tertiary level services such as health care and hospitality.

Add to that the acceleration of technology and the virtual economy and we can no longer be talking only about the fourth industrial revolution — the 5IR is coming at us fast, bringing humans and technology together and further changing the way we live and work.

The pandemic has also starkly highlighted inequalities in our society that, for many, are literally a matter of life or death.

All of this requires that as business we operate with a strong social consciousness, and that we are open to participating in collaborations and partnerships with other stakeholders — working in that quadruple helix of business, government, academia, and citizens.

The collaborative response by stakeholders across the spectrum of the metro as Covid-19 rolled into the Bay in 2020 is a good illustration of this.

The chamber board and members had to be agile, innovative, collaborative and fast in making decisions to support the unfolding human crisis in our city, while also acting to protect the interests of our members and the local business sector as a whole.

We saw in practical terms the power of a collective voice of business in being able to unlock private sector resources for the common good as we worked with the authorities to renovate public hospitals and get more than 160 beds operational in just 10 days and establish a field hospital that ran its oxygenated beds at 100% capacity in the second wave.

We are seeing this power of collective collaboration again in 2021, as we work closely with the municipality and our members to implement initiatives targeted at mitigating our impending water crisis and addressing security of electricity supply.

These initiatives see business, government and civil society working hand-in-hand to address both the hard infrastructure aspects of the water crisis as well as the likely humanitarian needs as parts of the metro begin to run out of water.

Six corporates have come on board to assist 12 high water-consuming schools with addressing leaks and saving water, while others are involved in drilling boreholes at these schools and have donated water tanks.

This is the new normal in action.

The challenge now is to continue strengthening the resilience and agility of the chamber, and our members, to drive positive change, working collaboratively to put the best interests of our metro first

Let us not be afraid of change, but embrace it and join forces to reimagine, reinvent and reset so that we can unleash the true potential of Nelson Mandela Bay.

Andrew Muir is CEO of the Wilderness Foundation Africa and the immediate past president of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber.

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