Today we bring you our second piece from Sophie’s Salon Series. Conversations with women in the industry on how COVID-19 will shake down the way we do things. Today we speak with Suzette Jackson and how the impacts of COVID-19 can reach beyond just moving your desk home…
Working in my own business Innate Ecology has allowed me to pursue my passion for regenerative design, improved health, well-being and liveability. My work has included education and research with the University of Melbourne and Deakin University architecture schools, urban activation projects with the Better Block team from Dallas, an environmental film festival for Geelong Arts Centre and leadership coaching. Co-founding the Living Future Institute of Australia in 2012, and more recently heading up Bioregional Australia Foundation with One Planet Living has led to collaboration on design and health outcomes in leading communities, precincts and cities.
I’m excited with the opportunities for real change across all aspects of society at the moment. While COVID has had a negative impact on the economic and community health of societies globally, it has demanded lifestyle change globally that allows us to witness the positive impacts on nature when there is less transport, less emissions. There is a renewed awareness and awakening of the need to fast track change and transform society, with a transition away from fossil fuel reliance towards greater well-being and healthier lifestyles.
Previously this has been a slow shift in communities, with local government and organisations declaring climate emergencies, and divesting from fossil-fuel based investments. Now we are seeing organisations and governments fast track actions held in their future strategies, with a focus on regenerating ecology. All organisations and governments should be setting strong targets in their strategies. Since the COVID-19 lockdowns, working remotely from home has highlighted the need to fast track improvements such as improving homes thermally, growing or buying local foods and greater use of active transport. The use of frameworks such as One Planet Living, and the Passive House standard are increasing as people understand the benefits to well-being.
There’s a focus on health and well-being of the workforce and students. I think that this pandemic will be around for the next 12 months at this point, and possibly beyond with potentially ongoing waves of infection. This is going to shine a light on how employers and educators engage online, provide flexible learning and support mental and emotional health with improved flexible working conditions.
The initial impacts on workplaces will be on improving building services, air filtration in enclosed spaces, cleanliness and physical distancing. There will be a range of improvements required before moving back into offices. Physical distancing will have to be maintained and hot-desking minimized in the short term, with dedicated desks and increased distancing between desks. This will result in a limited workforce in the office at any one time and the use of face masks.
There are a range of other impacts around meeting people while physical distancing, such as the use of foyers and confined spaces, that’s something we’re going to have to get used to, changing the way we do business. Workplace user’s health is paramount and avoiding points of transmission will be critical in getting people back into shared workplaces.
I had someone offer to shake my hand in the early days of lockdown, and I thought, ‘hang on a minute’ and put both my hands up. It’s human nature that we just go back to what we’re used to. We are creatures of habit. We need to build new habits out of this change, not only in how we greet each other but shifting our thinking on how we operate as a society; sourcing regional products and produce and supporting local economies will be a big part of this. It’s an exciting opportunity where we can support fast tracked local initiatives and change, by where we spend our money and time.
We need to have equal pay for women, equity and gender representation in organisations and governance, supporting those most vulnerable. This is a time where we can shine a light on equality to ensure organisations look not just inward on work practices but work with non-profit organizations and community groups to ensure that we are moving forward together, to create equitable leadership opportunities.
I love the fact that there’s less cars around on the road. We’ve taken to walking down the middle of our street and cars are slowing down behind us, waiting for us. I think it’s fantastic to see the amount of people out walking, cycling and running. We’ve a narrow footpath on the side of the road and it goes to show we can really do with wider footpaths and more space that’s publicly owned as opposed to allocated to roads and vehicles. I love the stories of councils who have decided to close down streets for children cycling to school. Councils that have fast tracked reducing vehicle lanes and converting roads with dedicated cycle pathways is fantastic.
There are also urban guerrillas spray painting bicycle signs on roads and building urban food gardens as urban activation; I love that. It can be hard for people to visualize improvements, if we can’t see it, we won’t move towards the change needed. The global pandemic is demonstrating to people that we can live differently, and what is necessary to create that change, the opportunity is to embed this change so we continue to regenerate.
The pandemic highlights the benefits of living in a close community; the benefits of walkability, access to local foods, amenity, and natural open space. What we’ve learned is that in Australia, we have nowhere near the number of plazas, parks, and green walkways in urban areas for everyone to access. We should be providing more of these spaces and places.
In many ways, our society emphasizes failures and looks to minimum standards. What we need to be doing is looking more at how we can improve how we live on our planet. What is our ideal? Our targets? Where are the positive elements? How do we live on earth leaving more space for the natural environment and increase positive impacts? How do we bring others on a journey with us creating purpose, health and wellbeing? My preference is to look at improvements rather than failings. And if there is a failing, then it’s a way to learn how to improve, to do better next time.
We hope you’ve enjoyed Suzette’s extremely insightful thoughts around COVID-19, workplaces and the need for both social, environmental and ecological sustainability. It’s a beautifully positive thought to see the crisis as an opportunity to fast-track change around some many facets of our future that many of us are passionately trying to pursue or push for. Wishing Suzette all the best for the end of 2020 and beyond. And immensely thankful women like her are there pushing for change. Stay tuned for more of Sophie’s Salon and please as always, we’d love to hear your thoughts below. S, J & D. x