On Thursday, September 24th, Project Cygnus put on its debut event, one structured around the theme of the entire project: how do we make the economic recovery from the Covid crisis as green, sustainable and local as possible? We had a great array of speakers. Representing local government, Katie Thornburrow, a Labour councillor in Cambridge, and Tim Barnes, a Tory councillor in Westminster; from academia, Joanna Berry from the University of Durham, Chris Coleridge from the University of Cambridge, as well as Emily Shuckburgh who is the Director of Cambridge Zero; from the private sector, Paul Connell from ODI Leeds and Stephen Passmore, CEO of Resilience Brokers. It was a lively discussion that raised a great many questions for Project Cygnus to explore as its research programme unfolds.

Given the range of guests, it was interesting to see how much agreement there was on key points. One item of consensus was around entrepreneurialism and how important it will be to a green Covid recovery; that the private sector will have to do a lot of the heavy lifting. More to the point, that SMEs will be of central importance – worrying when small and medium enterprises have been hardest by the crisis thus far. This partly fed from a suspicion that Whitehall wouldn’t be as helpful as it could be in this regard. In fact, the distrust of central government was a running theme, with the feeling from local government being that Westminster was both doing too little and not allowing local government to pick up the pieces either.

Looking at the local level, it was clear from the discussion that a lot of hard decisions will have to be made. An example was given around heaters outside of cafes as winter approaches – bad for the environment, but possibly necessary for businesses that can only hold so many customers inside. It will be decisions around things like this – the fine details – that may become vital, which is why making green Covid recovery as local as possible is so important.

So much is going on in the private sector on green Covid recovery. Procurement businesses are able to look at the carbon footprint of tenders. New Green banks were discussed. Yet there are concerns. We have no idea, for instance, if the changes to the way people are working since the start of the crisis are permanent or whether there will be more of a “return to normal” than we expect from the perspective of where we are at the moment. How people respond to the Covid crisis will have a lot to do with how successful any green Covid recovery can be – and at this stage, it is still difficult to know in any detail.

What is clear is that there is a lot going on in this space beyond Project Cygnus. Green Covid recovery is a subject many are seriously considering as the crisis looks to be going into its next phase.

We are looking for more good ideas about how to make the economic recovery from Covid as green and sustainable as possible. If you have thoughts to share, please contact us.