From working from home to buying groceries online, our lives have radically changed since the Covid-19 pandemic started in 2020. We’ve incorporated new habits and changed our perspective on many things. This includes the environment, with a larger commitment towards sustainability, at least in Australia and Austria, according to a new survey. Basically, the pandemic may have made us a bit more aware of the environmental impact of our day-to-day lives.
A study carried out by researchers from the University of Queensland found sustainable behaviors are slowly becoming the new normal in Australia and Austria. A survey of students and staff from two universities showed people are making healthier food choices, travelling less, walking and cycling more and practicing better waste management, among other changes after the pandemic.
“During lockdowns at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic we found people became more conscious about their home, neighbours and community,” Franzisca Weder, the study lead author, said in a statement. “It also led to many people questioning if they could be self-sufficient in a crisis, which was driven by food shortages in supermarkets”.
Change of habits
Weder and the researchers for the University of Queensland focused on the Covid-19 pandemic as a massive “crack” in how we perceived our normal and how it changed our existing patterns of behavior. They believe this extraordinary event forced individuals and organizations to act differently and start a process of change, incorporating new habits, policies and procedures.
The researchers suspected there may also be some changes in terms of sustainability. They focused on students and staff members from Klagenfurt University in Austria and The University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, who were asked to reply a survey about their habits amid the pandemic, with a focus on the environment. The survey was conducted online between June and September 2020, following the first series of lockdowns in many countries around the globe in March and April that year.
While scientific reports on the state of the world’s climate haven’t led people to act more sustainably, the Covid-19 pandemic seems to have turned things around, Weder said.
"The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 2018 called for rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society to avert the worst disasters of climate change," she said. "But these kinds of reports do not spur citizen action, at least not as much as COVID-19 apparently has, and especially not in Australia."
When asked about what they believed would be the most important issue facing their country in the next 20 years, respondents in both countries mentioned climate change as the highest threat. Virtually all respondents agreed that climate was probably changing or definitely changing, and about 80% of both countries believed climate change was caused by human activity.
Sustainability can become a core value
Overall, respondents from Austria believed they were more knowledgeable about climate change and regarded it as a more serious issue, despite thinking that it would affect their country less than respondents from Brisbane. While 55% of Klagenfurt respondents said they knew a great deal or a lot about climate change, only 38% of Brisbane respondents thought the same.
For both countries, respondents felt that other actors such as companies and governments were more responsible for the climate crisis than themselves. Even so, they felt a high level of personal responsibility to try to reduce climate change but were much less confident that people would reduce their energy needs or that governments would take action.
In terms of the impact of the pandemic on their carbon footprint, over half of those surveyed in both countries said to be driving their car less or much less compared to before the pandemic. As a substitute, more healthy and sustainable travel options increased, with 53% of Austrian respondents cycling more and over 60% from Brisbane increasing their walking habits.
Healthier food choices also emerged through lockdowns. Over 30% from Klagenfurt and 50% from Brisbane said to be eating more fresh fruit and vegetables and home cooked foods. More people also reported having fewer takeaway foods, alcohol, and tobacco than those that reported having more. People also said to be spending more time in social activities and with family.
“Not everyone knows exactly what ‘sustainability’ is – we’re told it’s doing things like preserving water, recycling, and putting solar panels on our roof. But I think we need to stop relying on these pre-definitions and try to find our own meaning,” Weder said. “Sustainability could become a value, like integrity and inclusion, and a way for us to find a way to be a good citizen.”
The study was published in the journal Social Sustainability.