Has the global pandemic impacted innovation?

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The short answer is absolutely. So, you could probably stop reading now if you wanted to or if you are interested to know more come along for the ride.

As we all know the past 18 months have been a real gamer changer for innovation. It has proved how quickly businesses can adapt to meet urgent needs. We had engineers from Mercedes Formula One innovating desperately needed ventilators within the first month of the pandemic.

Then there were others which adapted to survive and support their communities. Pubs and restaurants are a prime example. They didn’t let a little thing like having to close down their businesses stop them, instead they developed takeaway and delivery menus to help keep them afloat. Local bakeries started offering additional provisions in stores and home delivery packs for the elderly and vulnerable.

Style Cheat were one of the first fashion houses to start making consumer masks when it was hitting the fan. Whilst being a commercially smart move, it also reduced the pressure on demand for masks that the front line so desperately needed.

These examples all show the incredible resilience of the human race when faced with adversity. However, there is a but…

Where does all this leave sustainable innovation?

Pretty non-existent to be honest. The fight for survival meant sustainability was out. We had a surge in single use PPE. According to the Department of Health and Social Care 6.7 billion items of PPE were delivered from 25th February 2020 to 3rd January 2021. Look, don’t get us wrong, it was fast moving and we had to do what was needed to save lives. However, that is a lot of single use items and what makes it even scarier is that this number is only a glimmer. 

When we think about it, this is limited to England only, it is a snapshot of time not the whole picture AND it doesn’t include all of the consumer single use items sold in retail. With the sheer amount floating around, it’s no wonder we are seeing images of discarded products in the ocean, rivers and impacting wildlife. We had a global problem with single use before 2020 and the pandemic has enhanced that 100 fold.

Then there were issues with shipping products. 

What with demand for getting vital medical supplies taking up capacity, furloughing of staff and ongoing COVID outbreaks at ports, supply chains are facing crippling costs to get products to the UK.

The retail landscape is also a challenge. 

It has always been a highly competitive space, but this has been enhanced over the last 18 months. Those with an online presence have thrived and some of the more traditional bricks and mortar businesses have had to speed up their digital acumen to survive. 

Online has always had keen pricing due to the reduced overheads stores cause and faster shipping methods. This then makes for a less buoyant pricing strategy, or so retailers think. Nielsen reports that 49% of consumers will pay higher than average prices for sustainable products. 

Despite this, retailers are not willing to push prices up for customers out of fear they will drive them elsewhere.

This leaves a distinct lack of sustainable innovation when it comes to products and packaging. 

We are in a situation where we are trying to survive, and it is at the detriment of the planet. Being sustainable costs, sometimes marginally and sometimes more. 

Retailers are intent on surviving, so increasing costs is a no go. 

Supply chains are being faced with absorbing astronomical shipping costs, so they are not looking for innovative solutions, manufacturers are not being pushed to innovate and are also busying fire fighting to keep up with demand in a socially distanced world. 

So, it seems there is no place for innovation when it comes to sustainability right now.

As we are B Corp certified, we are committed to continue to innovate our clients’ products and packaging to make it more sustainable. We just hope that when we eventually reach normal, we can move at a faster pace to try and undo the damage.

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