Global Sustainable Outlook strategy portfolio manager, Pauline Grange, recently featured on our Eye of the Needle podcast. We revisited her “10 factors that could change economies & markets forever” viewpoint from April 2020 to see if any of her initial thoughts have shifted in the intervening months …
ADVANCE OF THE MEDICAL COMMUNITY
The development and rollout of Covid-19 vaccines in 2020-21 surely means the advance of the medical community is an ongoing trend to watch?
The pace and the success of several vaccines has been astonishing. It has exceeded all my expectations and is testimony to the huge advances we have seen in medical technology over the past decade. If you put that into context: before this pandemic it took more than 10 years on average to develop a vaccine, but we have developed several successful Covid vaccines in less than a year.
Moderna, one of the biotech companies which has developed a vaccine, was for example able to develop a vaccine ready for human testing in just 42 days from receiving the genetic blueprint of the virus. It did that using new and innovative vaccine technology called MRNA, which is astounding considering it usually takes years using traditional technologies.
I am optimistic that, having been able to develop all these vaccines as well as therapeutic treatments for Covid in less than a year, that the medical community will find us all a way out of this during the next year.
SMARTER WORKING BECOMES MORE ACCEPTED
With the rise of working from home and flexible working, is this the new normal?
I don’t think working from home permanently is the new normal and I would hope that we will return to the office at some point. We are social creatures and it is very important for people to work together.
Personally speaking, my colleagues are creative and want to share ideas and it is quite hard to do that naturally online. But I think the flexibility of being able to work from home more will stay, and that is a positive as it has been proven to increase productivity as well as enable more diversity in the workplace. I am a working parent and before the pandemic it was often tricky to balance everything, for example if my children were sick or I had to attend school parents’ evenings or children’s plays. Now, I am able to work from home and deal with some of those things. So from a gender diversity perspective I think more flexible working is great. But will the future be people working 100% from home? I don’t think so.
WHAT ELSE COVID HAS CHANGED
Is there anything not in your original “10 factors” you think might be here to stay?
Yes, Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of, and sparked a government focus on, healthcare systems as well as the general health of populations around the world. For example, in the UK people have seen the importance of a strong NHS and how you can sustain investment into that in terms of health spend per capita.
But we also need a cultural and lifestyle change, which is another influence of Covid. For example, obesity comes with a number of problems such as diabetes, but it also puts people at greater risk of contracting Covid-19. This is why in the UK we saw Prime Minster Boris Johnson perform a U-turn on his stance on obesity after contracting the disease himself, shifting to a focus on a healthier lifestyle. The result of this is that the UK government is now proposing measures such as a ban on online adverts for food high in fat, sugar and salt before 9pm, as well as bans on deals such as “buy one, get one free” on unhealthy food. 2
The rise of sustainable agriculture is also important to note. Awareness of the risk of virus transmission from wildlife to humans has risen, as has the sense that this often comes about as we increasingly encroach on wildlife and on nature. So, we need to look at the farming industry and in particular the deforestation that comes from farming, and this may influence countries to embrace more sustainable agriculture practices. At a consumer level it may accelerate the adoption of more plant-based diets globally, as we become aware of the environmental impact of eating meat and proteins.
But at the end of the day, some things won’t change. Although travel, leisure and live entertainment have been some of the sectors most severely by Covid, people are craving fun and to have experiences once again. That will return. The demand hasn’t gone away, and some people are comparing the potential post-Covid period to the roaring twenties after the first world war, where everyone was desperate to get out there and have fun again. Hopefully these experiences are things that will return to the way they were.
¹CNN, Biotech company Moderna says its coronavirus vaccine is ready for first tests, 26 February 2020
²The Guardian, UK set to bring in strict new junk food rules including pre-9pm ad ban, 23 July 2020