Earth Day: The Environment During COVID-19 & Beyond

Trends / Sustainability
Malte Mueller
Rebecca Swift
Apr 21, 2020
Until last month we had seen a rise in interest and use of imagery relating to environmental issues and we were seeing trends in sustainability across the industry sectors we work with. Getty Images Visual GPS research completed in February indicated that 92% of consumers across 26 countries were concerned about the way we treat the planet, with 85% being worried about air pollution.

And while the narrative of climate change as wildfires, flooding and global warming, the corporate visualization of environmental issues was focusing on everyday lifestyle and business imagery but with reusable coffee cups, water bottles and shopping bags. There was a visual connection between caring for the environment and a personal choice linked to convenience.

The 2006 environmental crisis fuelled by Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth documentary and the enduring iconography of the polar bear on the melting ice cap waned when the financial crisis hit in 2008 and the recession followed. We did not see similar imagery trends again until the last 18 months. This naturally begs the question… what will happen to environmental concerns in the COVID‑19 crisis?
To date, while the majority of us have been focused on the new normal and immediate financial concerns, urban dwellers are finding that the environment is a much larger part of our lives than before.

In a very short period of time, we already have a greater understanding of our impact on the planet. The canals in Venice have cleared with fish returning, nitrogen oxide levels in China are over a third lower than they were last year, wildlife is venturing into built‑up environments and within a week, carbon monoxide levels in NYC city halved. This is starting to be visualized and will likely cause us to reconsider the wisdom and cost of long commutes and business travel once restrictions lift. Home‑based living is a personal and environmentally friendly alternative.
At Getty Images, sustainability (+142% increase since last year) and sustainable living (+201%) are trending against current search behavior. While we usually see increases in interest in the environment as the economy grows and interest decreasing as the economy shrinks, the environment has become inextricably linked to wellness during the COVID‑19 crisis. Governments around the world have created an association between taking care of ourselves and our families and spending time outdoors. Our daily exercise is connected to running/walking or cycling away from home. Understandably, visualizing single people/couples/families outdoors but not socializing is key to resonating with consumer’s current aspirations, and we have seen a massive 766% increase in searches relating to people in/and the environment as a result. We expect aspirations around the environment to grow with a fetishization of the outdoors and the visualization of moving freely through landscapes and uncrowded spaces to resonate with our desires. Interestingly, travel companies, who have been hit hard by COVID‑19 have already pivoted to creating visuals of enticing scenery, with far fewer people than before.

So as we move through the novelty of documenting home life, working in a different way and the highs and lows of living together, visuals will move away from what we are stuck with to what we take pleasure from. Currently, the outdoors is reduced to a daily allowance but this will improve so reconnecting with nature and finding inspiration and restfulness in the outdoors will continue to be pleasurable (and free)!
Visual GPS: Sustainability