Most of us want the government and brands to prioritize sustainability even while facing other issues.
When the coronavirus shutdown hit California, San Diego-based clean manufacturing firm Genomatica sent its desk workers home to work remotely, which gave more room to its lab workers to maintain physical distance from one another. As the weeks went on, Genomatica’s co-founder and CEO, Christophe Schilling, says that he and his fellow Genomaticans began to notice something. “The air was cleaner,” he says. “It was quieter. I could see stars and satellites at night in ways that I couldn’t before.”
In a sense, Genomatica is in the business of sustainability. Using fermentation—the same biology process used to make beer, cheese, and bread—Genomatica makes bio-based alternatives to the petroleum that would normally go into your nylon clothes, your coffee capsules, and even your skin care products. So when the skies cleared and the price of gas fell, Schilling saw the kind of changes in the world his company is striving to make. “Humankind’s impact on nature and our environment became very visible to me,” he says.
But not everyone works at a place like Genomatica where sustainability is top-of-mind, and Schilling began wondering what the rest of the world was thinking. And so it was that four months into the coronavirus crisis, Genomatica sought to find the answer.
Sustainability is top-of-mind
In a new study, Genomatica reports that “sustainability has moved from a fringe preference into a core imperative across American life,” with 85% of Americans reporting they’ve been thinking about sustainability the same amount or more during the Covid-19 pandemic. Of those who thought about it more, 45% noticed less traffic and 24% noticed cleaner air. The study also reveals that more than half (56%) of Americans want both the government and brands to prioritize sustainability even while facing other issues. “The results inspired us more,” says Schilling. “What we were feeling is being felt by a lot of other people.”
Genomatica did a similar survey about a year ago, in which consumers said they wanted to make sustainable choices, but confusion and lack of transparency made it difficult for them to know what to do. But as more and more bio-based products come to market, along with stories about how companies can replace the petrochemicals used to make them with high-performance, natural alternatives, it’s becoming easier for consumers to make choices that better align with their personal values.
It’s not always obvious for people to know what to do about climate change, Schilling says, but increasingly people are able to make choices every day about the products they use.