MONTHLY BAROMETER – WELLNESS EDITION
No more beating about the bush: Climate change is a risk like no other, and it’s accelerating. (1) A spate of recent research concludes that greater severity and intensity of extreme weather with its second-round effects (such as rising waters) is not only happening but on the increase. (2) Two central bank governors just called on financial regulators, banks and insurers to “raise the bar” to avoid a climate catastrophe, warning also about the impending “massive reallocation of capital.” (3) A major study by BlackRock shows that climate change is already having a detrimental effect on some securities such as municipal bonds or utility stocks. It concludes that the markets underprice physical climate risks.
At the macro level, the two major manifestations of climate change (global warming and more extreme weather events) will be the defining issue for the wellness industry for years to come. Large segments of the industry remain in denial about what this means and entails, particularly in terms of reallocation of capital. The wake-up call is sounding now! Consequences are manifold and multifaceted. We review below some obvious ones. A large-scale study looking at the impact of climate change on the wellness industry as a whole (ranging from plastic in the beauty industry to stranded assets in the hospitality industry) seems warranted and overdue.
The unprecedented nature of the risk demands an unprecedented response. We will be required to ditch some of our most basic assumptions about what today constitutes a “normal” life (easy travel, overconsumption, and the like), and climate rebellion will come in different guises. Extinction Rebellion (a movement born in Britain that advocates mass civil disobedience for bold climate action), the global school strikes by climate activists, or BirthStrike (an online community who opt not to bear children due to the severity of the ecological crisis) are a foretaste of what’s to come.
The travel industry in general and its wellness segment, in particular, may well be at the forefront of the backlash. Increasingly, over-traveling for leisure is being frowned upon. An early-warning signal about what’s coming is the emergence of “anti-flying” campaigns such as Flygfritt 2019 (No-Fly 2019)—a Swedish initiative enabled by social media aiming to get 100,000 people committed to not flying in 2019. Emissions from aviation may only account for around 3 percent of EU total greenhouse gas emissions, and 100,000 Swedes not flying pales in comparison to the 100,000 increase a day in the number of Asians flying, but that’s not the point: Anything that contributes to the impending climate disaster will be in the new activists’ line of fire. The direction of the trend is clear: “Fly shame” is bound to increase and alter the experience of many well-intentioned wellness travelers.
How can the wellness industry act more “responsibly” and prepare to mitigate the coming backlash? (1) The most obvious one is for the industry to systematically espouse schemes for compensating flight emissions. Although personal and corporate carbon offsetting that enable balancing out carbon footprints by investing in carbon capture and clean energy projects are often criticized as a “trick” used by the rich to carry on polluting, they are growing rapidly and gaining traction. (2) The second one is to transpose the principle underlying the flexitarian diet to flying. That is to say, reduce travel abroad (both business and leisure) to the necessary. Flyingless (a US organization), for example, calls on universities to reduce air travel to conferences. (3) Some think tanks (such as the New Economics Foundation) and groups (such as Friends of the Earth) are now proposing a “frequent flyer levy” that would tax people according to how often they fly.
The bottom line: Incremental, barely discernible (currently) change will contribute to opening social and political space that will eventually lead to large-scale change. If it doesn’t want to be taken by surprise and suffer from the backlash, the wellness industry must lead the way now.