CoronaVirus and 6 Sustainability Steps Businesses can take to prevent more

What can Business do to help slow more of these viruses 🦠 from becoming pandemics in future? 


An expert says many come from species in rainforest areas such as the Congo in Africa, released when the areas are opened up for mining, often for minerals for our new phones, laptops, cars, equipment. 

There are Steps Responsible Business can take to be part of preventing more.



A recent article on CoronaVirus “The Man Who Saw the Pandemic Coming” interviewed Dr. Dennis Carroll the former Director of the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Global Health Security and Development Unit, where he was responsible for providing strategic and operational leadership for the Agency’s programs addressing new and emerging disease threats until the unit was shut down by the Trump administration. 



Dr Carroll discussed the threat of “zoonotic spillover”, the transmission of pathogens like COV-19 from nonhuman animals to humans. The article states that “Scientists are confident the current outbreak, which began in Wuhan, China, stemmed from a virus inherent in bats.” After years of studying infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and USAID, Carroll had formed the USAID program PREDICT, where he guided trailblazing research into viruses hiding, and waiting to emerge, in animals around the world.
Dr Carroll explained that “in Africa, we see a lot of incursion driven by oil or mineral extraction in areas that typically had few human populations. The problem is not only moving workers and establishing camps in these domains,  but building roads that allow for even more movement of populations. Roads also allow for the movement of wildlife animals, which may be part of a food trade, to make their way into urban settlements. All these dramatic changes increase the potential spread of infection.”
Why is oil or mining extraction needed from Rainforests from which viruses such as CoronaVirus might emerge? Oil extraction fuels our cars, planes, other vehicles, and some industrial manufacturing. Travelling less,  or by renewables powered electric vehicles (EVs) can help reduce our need for oil extraction. Mineral extraction, generally known as mining has, especially in areas like the Congo jungle of central Africa, been increasingly for the raw materials such as the “3TG” and Cobalt “Conflict Minerals” which are needed for our smartphones, laptops and technical equipment, new cars, and other electronic equipment or components.


What steps might we in the Sustainability world take to be part of slowing (towards ending) the oil and mineral extraction and mining which is destroying irreplaceable biodiversity of lush rainforest and habits (as it takes 100s of years to replace, and some species could be lost forever) which can also release Corona type viruses? 

These are homes for endangered wildlife species including forest elephants, chimpanzees, bonobos, and lowland and mountain gorillas inhabit the lush forests, and the “approximately 10, 000 species of tropical plants in the Congo Basin, 30% are unique to the region, and 400 other species of mammals, 1,000 species of birds and 700 species of fish”


Steps Business can take to slow waste, support rainforests and protect against corona type viruses


1. Stay Home: Yes, work from home for now as much as you can, wash hands with soap and disinfect after outings, wear gloves when you can and wash them on return home, etc and stay well and don’t spread the virus to help #SlowTheSpread and #FlattenTheCurve so our health services aren’t overwhelmed by too many cases needing limited ICU’s, ventilators and expert nursing and medical care all at once.


2. Slow Down: Try to replace devices less, or pay for repair, and inspire and support growing local repair communities. Join or start movements encouraging tech firms to make their devices repairable like Fairphone does here , and support the proliferation of repair services our society needs. This also helps slow pollution from throwaway phones and laptops polluting landfills with e-waste. The 2018 passing of “Right to Repair” legislation in the USA, and the Europe movement behind at least requiring by law across the EU that firms must make household appliances longer-lasting from 2021, and will have to supply spare parts for machines for up to 10 years, are indications of how voices can drive this sustainable design.


3. Recycle: The old Environmental adage of Reduce, Re-use, Recycle heightens in importance to prevent further CoronaVirus type crisis. I lived in Wuhan China in 1996-7 winter, and in China further 1999-2000 and mid 2000s, so have seen from posts from friends and contacts since January of people losing loved ones too soon to this pandemic. One third of Wuhan doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals fell sick and some like brave Dr Li Wenliang have died of this virus. So recycling to prevent the mining destruction which can increase viruses spread can now that we are experiencing COV-19 be seen to be even more important.


4. Sustainability Policy Improvement: Our tech devices are made of minerals mined for their components. If your firm is able, consider in your supply chain Environmental impact and in your Sustainability policy phasing in a move to purchasing refurbished laptops, phones and equipment whenever possible. Mine work brilliantly, with an Apple guarantee if needed, and which drives them to continuously improve their efforts. If more businesses ask for and eventually demand recycled and refurbished tech whenever possible, and/or tech with modular design like FairPhone, for which memory can be upgraded without the entire physical device needing to be replaced, we can cause change. This means less newly mined minerals and materials are needed from mining sites which clear irreplaceable rainforests.

If you or your firm needs to buy new laptops or iphones buy refurbished and play your part as an individual or more sustainable business to encourage an ever better repair market so less minerals which make up the parts in our devices need to be mined.

Companies buying refurbished, and supporting circular economy are also lowering their overall environmental impact and carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions footprint as production of new devices requires smelting and shipping and subsequent air pollution.

We need business to use it’s influence to reduce product planned obsolescence, the policy of planning or designing a product with an artificially limited useful life, so that it becomes obsolete (i.e., unfashionable, or no longer functional) after a certain period of time”,…..under a “strategy to generate long-term sales volume by reducing the time between repeat purchases (referred to as “shortening the replacement cycle”)”. There is plenty of money to be made for our economy and businesses and jobs to be created from people being hired and trained to spend their time and talents repairing and upgrading devices rather than creating polluting environmental footprints in making new devices then thrown away as e-waste, or sitting around homes, offices or warehouses creating unhygienic dusty clutter.

Small steps have an impact for Sustainability.  Like drops of water creating a wave, small efforts are amplified in collaboration. When buyer members of the Leather Working Group collaboration for Sustainability required supplier tanneries to show traceability that the leather was not coming from farms newly created from rainforest destruction, satellite photography showed a slow in the destruction in the year or so following.


5.     Join Forces: Could your industry association of large, or even small or medium sized (SME) businesses publish a pledge to buy only refurbished when you can, track results, and publicly call on Apple, HP, Dell, Samsung and other large tech players to increase their investment in making their products refurbishable and upgradeable? The Right to Repair campaign coalition of European organizations active around the cause of repair state that “E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world. Only 15-20% is recycled, and 50 million tonnes of e-waste are produced each year, equivalent to more than 4,500 Eiffel Towers”. 

Other Social Benefits: Sustainability steps are often close linked to positive social impacts and this is especially so for technology. Increasing purchasing (even if slowly) of new technology goods, and encouraging an improved repair and recycling industry can also reduce the involvement of your business in the modern slavery inherent in the global supply chains of any business or person buying new technology. 

Foreign contract workers in Malaysian, Japan, Taiwan and Korea technology factories part of the supply chains of all the main western and Asian brands have usually paid agents fees back in Bangladesh or Indonesia for their jobs and are hence in a form of bonded labour modern slavery which the industry struggles to solve against the profits, whilst e-waste piles to pollute precious land back home in countries like Bangladesh, ..driving more to need to risk such work abroad, away from families. Despite the belief of many that Bangladeshi workers can’t wait to leave, Bangladesh is a beautiful country, many workers are parents, and would much rather enjoy a fairer, safer job in repair and upcycling back home if they could earn as much there.  

Much of the mining of tin, tungsten, tantalum, gold and cobalt for tech devices is mined by small-scale artisanal mining families who work in wretched conditions that are extremely dangerous to their health – often with no safety equipment or protective clothing…. exposed to a near invisible poison, cobalt dust, which can cause fatal hard metal lung disease”. Furthermore more, this work is often in conditions of child labour or modern slavery, such as when militias have rounded up villagers at gunpoint and forced them to work, or people are enslaved to pay off household or business debts, for money, food, or tools are advanced to laborers, but for which phony accounting and abusive interest rates preventing them from repaying, and so the miners are forced to keep digging, unsafely.  Wouldn’t it be a more positive future if we created such a strong repair and recycling economy that we can support these people into decent jobs in a fairer, decent work industry,..leaving their rainforest and all our health better protected?


6.     Support: To protect the rainforests from the logging, land clearance, mining and oil extraction which brings more wildlife species and hence viruses into contact with humans, to spread globally, also support the non-profits which speak for these Africa, Amazon, Asia rainforest communities who want to protect their forests and homelands. The photo in this article was from the WorldWideFund for Nature (WWF), an organisation well worth supporting.

For now, let’s support our communities online by staying home as needed if we can and away from events to #SlowTheSpread of #CoronaVirus and save lives through slowing pressure on national health services caused by spread.


In the long run this epidemic is another reason we must take more Environmental Sustainability steps as business to protect our rainforests which are such important homes for beautiful species we love like Gorilla as well as carbon sinks to slow global warming and climate change. 


Let’s lower our travel and tech consumption as much as we can, support, encourage and drive a faster recycling and upcycling industry, and lower our (especially imported or large scale agribusiness grown) meat intake.


Everything connects. 

This article was written by Kate Larsen of SupplyESChange, a consultancy of experienced advocates, advisors and trainers in strategies and approaches for responsible and sustainable Supply Chain Environmental and Social Change for good.

We help companies understand the impacts in their supply chain and how they can lower the negatives and increase the positive for better ESG performance, social impacts, environmental stewardship and to support deliver of the SDGs.

In March, April 2020 we are helping Companies learn how to support Sustainability in their Supply Chains and deliver Social Impacts through rapid Innovation in responding to the Corona Virus crisis.

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