Interview with Markus Laubscher, Director, Orbia

Markus Laubscher is director of circular economy and regeneration at Orbia. Here he discusses the wide-ranging changes he believes have been triggered, or accelerated, by the pandemic.

‘It’s been an enormous equalizer’

As the pandemic quickly spread around the world, affecting all our lives, it really got to me. It was dramatic how quickly it happened and will have long-lasting implications.

A clear message for me is that we’re all together here as a species. It’s been an enormous equalizer – disregarding race, nationality or social status. And a reminder of our relationship with our wider biodiversity.

If we have that equal footing and understand each other as part of one family, we have a better chance of addressing issues like climate change and biodiversity loss.

We need to face these challenges together. As the weakest link in the chain can make or break the situation for everyone.

‘People have started to put things into perspective’

We have lived through this health pandemic and we’re still living it. There’s a new understanding. It’s more than just a conceptual, intellectual understanding – it’s on a feelings level.

Have we become more empathetic towards other human beings? I don’t think so. But maybe we have realized that despite all the riches you may have, there’s still a sense of vulnerability. Just look at the massive number of deaths in many rich countries.

And we’ve seen many climate change impacts during the pandemic. The fires in Australia and America, the floods in Germany. Peoples’ lives have been shattered.

This makes it even more compelling. People have started to put things into perspective.

‘It’s been like a test of how to deal with a crisis’

We now have an idea of the disruptions that a crisis like this can cause.

But also an idea about our ability to change. Change our habits, restructure our ways of working – taking measures to counter the crisis.

This realization about our ability to adapt and change is important. We now know how to do it. It’s been like a test of how to deal with a crisis.

As a result, we now feel better equipped to deal with other crises – ones which are bigger and more encompassing.

It’s also helped humanity gain more courage to address things, where in the past people felt helpless.

I’m curious to see how these manifestations might impact upon COP 26 in Glasgow.

‘A greater sense of responsibility’

During the pandemic we’ve seen companies across all sectors working together. Stepping up their game, working with communities, public sector entities and NGOs to help alleviate the suffering.

All sectors have pulled together, gaining confidence, and with it, a greater sense of responsibility.

I’m trying to scope out and identify new investment opportunities for our organization – to play an active role in decarbonizing certain sectors of the economy. How can we make it more circular, and environmentally responsible.

This is a huge undertaking, for humanity and our global economy. And for our company to be part of the solution.

‘Able to combine my work and home life’

Let me also reflect on my personal experience and work life balance.

I am surprised how easily I’ve been able to build strong working relationships with people just through Zoom.

And I’ve been able to combine my work and home life much more closely.

I’m meeting so many people on Zoom every day, and can still be available when my family needs me.

It’s also had a big effect on the way I behave with my family. Moving to a new country everybody’s needed help with adaptation and support. It’s been an opportunity for me to strengthen my relationship with my kids.

‘Happier and more satisfied with simpler things’

I’ve found that I’m happier and more satisfied with simpler things. Like rediscovering cooking, meditation and nature.

And working from home has given me the opportunity to be much more active than I have for years. I’ve not been in better mental and physical health for a long time. It will have a lasting positive effect on me.

Also, being severely limited in our travel has led us to rediscover of our own neighbourhood. And at the same time, reduced my interest in travelling. The bar has been put much higher for what I consider relevant to justify a trip away.

I believe that traveling and mobility will be reduced long term. And when making a trip we will want to get even more out of it.

It’s an interesting global experiment, that confirms what all change agents know – it’s not just about talking or thinking, it’s about living it. Without living a change, you cannot rationalize it.

‘An essential enabler for removing social inequality’

Looking ahead, we’ll see a big growth in digital healthcare provision.

The pandemic has given a boost for the quantified self – where people measure all kinds of vital signs. This initially increased because of the health crisis. People wanted to be better aware of what was happening to them.

People will continue to get more active with their own measurements – checking their own health status. This is an area where the pandemic has been a huge accelerator of acceptance of new ways of delivering healthcare.

There’s been a step change, as people realize the importance of having access to healthcare services through digital channels.

Communities will need to invest more in their digital infrastructure. Not as a ‘nice to have’, but as an essential enabler for removing social inequality.

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