Okay, we'll just go ahead and say it. 2020 was... a challenge.
We'd like to take this opportunity, then, to go over what we've learned from this history-book-making year, and what we think this will mean for FoodCycler and the world in 2021.
1. In times of stress, we turn to the simple things in life.
Perhaps you noticed that, soon after lockdown set in, everyone started baking? We could attribute that to simple boredom in the face of endless hours spent at home, but we think it's more than that.
Baking, cooking, knitting, gardening - all these hobbies have a few things in common, apart from their being quite popular in 2020.
They are all traditional skills, honed throughout the history of humankind. They require patience and know-how, but not so much that you couldn't learn how to do them from a quick Google query. They keep your hands busy and your mind occupied, but do not require immense amounts of focus or critical thinking. Essentially, they're all very meditative hobbies, and center us in our ancestral heritage.
In our high-tempo, high-stress global culture - and particularly when dirt hits the fan - it makes perfect sense that we turn to activities that offer us a little bit of zen and comfort, which can be done from the comfort of our own homes.
2. The world is going digital - and it's working for us.
It's interesting that, as much as our personal development has been focused on traditional, practical hobbies, our world is going even deeper down the digital rabbit-hole. But could this actually be a good thing? We've seen so many dystopian movies about how humans are at the mercy of their robotic, artificially-intelligent overlords - but is that the real takeaway from 2020?
FoodCycler discovered something pretty incredible after nearly a year of "digital commuting". We learned that we have a greater and more positive impact in our industry and as a corporate body when we all work from home.
- without all of our personal vehicles on the road to travel to and from work, we have almost completely eliminated our company's CO2 emissions generated through transportation.
- we are spending less time on the road, and therefore we have more time for both our work and our personal lives
- all of our employees have greater flexibility in making their own schedules and prioritizing their health (physical and mental) - which makes us more productive in the long run
- our business costs have decreased significantly as we no longer require a large, completely kitted-out, full-time office space; rather, we've turned to a co-working space which both suits our changing needs as a digital company and our vision as an eco-corporation.
- Changing locations from Cornwall (Ontario) to Ottawa has even allowed some of our workforce to bike to work every day, Covid and weather-permitting, further lowering transportation emissions
- without multiple bodies in the office at one location, there is less risk of contamination - not just from Covid, but colds, the flu - even bad moods!
- working from home means that we are less likely to stress-buy lunch and water while out and about during work hours - contributing less unnecessary plastic waste to landfills and/or recycling plants
3. We can and do affect the health of the environment.
One of the first lessons we learned during 2020 is just how much our behaviour as a civilization affects our environment. During the first half of 2020, when Covid-related restrictions on mobility were most stringent, global emissions were reduced at a scale that has never been seen before, greater even than the downturn taken during WWII.
The key result is an abrupt 8.8% decrease in global CO2 emissions (−1551 Mt CO2) in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
This interruption of our usual 1% global annual increase in emissions is directly related to Covid-19 measures which limited where people could travel - even domestically. By forcing us to stay home, Covid-19 actually taught us a lot about just how our day-to-day activities affect the world around us.
This forced decrease in emissions taught us that, yes, limiting unnecessary travel is important, but also that a full-stop on industry (or as close as we'll probably ever get to one) is not the only or the best available answer to the climate crisis. It's not our current/future emissions which will determine the direction in which the dial falls - but our past emissions (or legacy load).
The forced lockdown did, however, confirm for us that we can affect immense change in emissions by changing our habits as professionals. For companies that can operate with a workforce commuting remotely - like ours - it makes perfect sense to simply lean into the curve.
Rather than attempt to force industry to return to the "old normal" - perhaps the "new normal" has its benefits.
4. The supply chain faltered for a minute - and gave us a new perspective on self-reliance.
Remember the Great Toilet Paper Crisis of 2020?
Many news sources have threatened shortages and re-stocking difficulties with certain products (such as toilet paper). While reaction to these logistical issues varied depending on which areas were hit hardest by Covid, the realization that our food and utilities streams are a) fallible and b) not endless has given us all a lot to think about in terms of our own autonomy.
FoodCycler itself was challenged by Covid-related interruptions to our supply chain. We’ve learned this year just how much we rely on communication, planning, strategy and our incredible customer support team – not to mention the patience and good grace of our customers.
Along with greater awareness of our company’s interconnectedness, we’ve also conversely learned the importance of autonomy and self-reliance in our day-to-day lives.
Just over half (51 %) grow at least one type of fruit or vegetable [...] and of those, nearly one in five (17.4%) started growing their own food for the first time during COVID-19.
Agri-Food Analytics Lab (AAL)
This is a pretty incredible stat. Considering how the number of farmers has dwindled exponentially in the past fifty or so years, it's encouraging to note that many people are not content with being completely alienated from their food supply.
Growing your own food is also a highly therapeutic activity, associated with increased mental and physical well-being - including maintaining a healthy weight.
Phytoncides - or, the natural "aromatherapy of plants and nature settings - has been linked to a startling increase in natural killer cells (NK cells) which fight cancerous cells in the body.
More and more, home gardens, urban gardens and small-scale, local farms are seeming like a good idea – and possibly the way of the future?
5. We need connection – and that starts from the ground up.
Lockdown affected us pretty strongly. There's the understatement of the year.
Isolation is a dangerous thing. When entire countries went into lockdown, the surge in loneliness and mental health related memes told us a lot about what people require to live healthy, balanced lives.
We need each other! And whether that connection happens digitally or from a minimum of six feet apart, it's an absolutely essential element to our happiness and life satisfaction.
While we were all tucked away in our homes, apartments and digital workspaces/classrooms - we missed being outside almost as much as we missed other people. With entire cities forced to remain indoors, we began to seriously consider the import of the outdoors for our society and our own individual well-being.
It’s been proven time and again: we need Nature and natural spaces, just as we need human connection. This goes beyond an aesthetic bias toward green space, or suburban “lawn pride.” The Earth provides the air we breathe, the ground we walk on, the food we eat and the water we drink. There is no alternative to Nature. For better or for worse, our future is linked to that of Mother Earth.
Something our company re-emphasized for ourselves is the importance of healthy soil to a healthy climate. The documentary Kiss the Ground really highlighted the powerhouse effects of healthy soil in regulating and, in fact, combatting greenhouse gasses.
Soil that is reach in organic matter pulls CO2 from the atmosphere - five times more than plants or the atmosphere combined. Keeping our soil healthy, our agriculture organic, our fields top-covered and our organic waste out of landfills has never been more important.
2020 only re-confirmed for us the importance of keeping food waste out of landfills, and inside our food systems - where compost and fertilizer belong!
Thank goodness it's finally 2021!
That isn't to say that we expect everything to go back to normal - in fact, we believe that positive change for the environment and society actually requires some serious thought to be put into what was once considered "normal" and what our "new normal" should be.
2020 brought us some remarkable curveballs - and we've since learned quite a few lessons (as a company, and as individuals).
Our Key Learnings:
-Learning/performing traditional skills (baking, sewing, etc) is one of the myriad ways in which we cope with stress.
-Growing your own food is good for your mental and physical health.
-We are social animals - connect with others in whatever way you can, whenever you can.
-Digital commuting might actually be a saving grace for certain companies - and could reduce their impact on the environment.
-Nature needs nurturing. We can and must start changing our habits.
-We need nature. Healthy environment = healthy mind!
-Healthy soil and circular waste streams are going to play an integral role in "drawdown" - or eliminating our legacy load of CO2.
All that to say: thanks for the lessons, 2020. And good riddance!