Many watching Sir David Attenborough’s latest documentary, A Life on Our Planet, will have been deeply moved by the reality of the damaging impact we have made on our natural world.

Sir David gives a witness statement on how drastically human beings have damaged biodiversity across the globe during his 94 years – comparing our impact on the planet to the Chernobyl disaster.

He sets out a doomsday domino effect of catastrophic consequences and makes a powerful call to action for change, and for that change to happen now. It’s sad, it’s bleak, but it is essential watching.

Just as Blue Planet II focused the nation’s conscience onto the plight of single use plastics, this documentary will make consumers question their use of fossil fuels, palm oil, the amount of meat they eat, the sustainability of the fish on their plate and the size of their family.

These issues are not new, and many conscientious business have already taken steps to become more sustainable, Budweiser Brewing Group is brewing beer with 100% renewable energy, all Waitrose & Partner’s own-label fish has been responsibly caught or farmed, and for the last decade L’Oréal has ensured that 100% of the palm oil it purchases meets the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) standards.

This new documentary should ring alarm bells for any businesses who are still investing in fossil fuels, cannot guarantee that their products are not linked to deforestation or disregard sustainably caught seafood.

Sir David, broke the record for gaining more than 1 million followers in less than four hours when he joined Instagram, he’s currently at 5.8M. He is a tour de force and by teaming up with Prince William, who has filmed his own ITV documentary on the natural world, this high profile duo will inevitably lead to change in consumer behaviour and Government policy.

Just as the Blue Planet effect saw the dramatic increase in purchases of reusable water bottles and travel mugs, this new documentary will also affect consumer choices. We may now see an acceleration in plant-based diets and the demand for meat alternatives, with people choosing to eat better quality meat and less often. Consumers will stalk the supermarket aisles with the Good Fish Guide App and WWF’s Palm Oil Scorecard at their fingertips. Households may increasingly choose to heat their homes with renewable energy and have a much greater awareness of the carbon footprint of the products they purchase.

From a policy perspective, the Blue Planet documentaries largely brought about a ban on plastic straws, drinks stirrers, cotton buds and microbeads, a charge on single-use plastic bags, the commitment to a Deposit Return Scheme, Extended Producer Responsibility, and a tax on plastic packaging which does not have at least 30% recycled content.

The Government has committed to a net-zero carbon economy by 2050 and a green recovery was at the forefront this year’s Budget, with the acknowledgement that Covid-19 has left us in a position to reassess the way we run our economy. The Government reaffirmed its commitment to reducing emissions and committed millions to green technology, decarbonising transport, improving air quality, and investing in natural resources.

However, the “Life On Our Planet” effect and popular support for action will likely force the Government to be bolder in its policy making. For businesses that could mean product bans, levies and public reporting to stem the loss of biodiversity. We could see:

  1. A ban on non RSPO Palm Oil
  2. A ban on the import of any products that contribute to deforestation
  3. A UK-wide carbon tax to replace the EU’s emissions trading scheme
  4. An end to the decade long freeze on fuel duty
  5. Additional “no-take zones” for fishing in UK waters
  6. Tougher rules for British marine protected areas
  7. Mandatory sustainability certification for products sold in UK
  8. Mandatory company reporting on commodity supply chain originates and a requirement for a robust strategy to meet net zero targets
  9. Acceleration of the shift to electric vehicles and a ban on new fossil fuel vehicles by 2030
  10. A Frequent Flier Levy with one tax free return flight a year per person

However, you could quite easily question the rhetoric and the reality of the Government’s commitments.

The next stages of the Environment Bill have been delayed from June to December and the consultations on Deposit Return Scheme and Extended Producer Responsibility have been pushed back until until next year – with the implementation dates likely to be delayed further.

The long-awaited energy white paper, which will underpin the government’s legally binding target to create a net-zero carbon economy by 2050, has been delayed several times and has still not been published.

The Government has refused to enshrine environmental protections and animal welfare standards in law as to not jeopardise international trade deals and there is significant concern that the Government is not prioritising sustainability in post-Brexit fisheries legislation.

With the armageddon images of what happens if we do not act now fresh in our minds, many will share concerns that the pace of change is just not quick enough.

By the time of COP26 in November 2021, A Life On Our Planet will have gathered momentum and we can expect bold announcements from the government. For business, now is the time to be part of the solution and to help governments shape what the future of sustainability should look like.