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Opportunity lies in recognising the next renaissance

By Jeremy Pafford on 20-May-2020

Here’s a blasphemous statement: There really is no “new normal.”

The only “new normal” is the “new normal” of calling current conditions the “new normal,” and today’s “new normal” is just replacing conditions that we had been calling the “new normal” since the US shale wave disrupted energy and chemical markets.

Normalcy evolves with societal standards and practices – thus, it is constantly in flux and never static. Sometimes that change moves at a snail’s pace; sometimes it goes viral. How businesses analyse changing conditions and adapt to evolving demand patterns is always important, but it can be a matter of survival amid the global seismic upheaval underway right now.

One changing societal condition that I believe we are on the cusp of is the Great Outdoors Renaissance.

With the spectre of the coronavirus still casting a pall over the world and safer-at-home orders in many countries fraying due to many citizens feeling a bit stir crazy, there is a growing chorus of experts saying that one of the best ways people can mitigate their risk of catching the virus is by spending more time outside.

As Harvard Medical School’s Julia Marcus wrote recently in The Atlantic: “Scientists still have a lot to learn about this new virus, but early epidemiological studies suggest that not all activities or settings confer an equal risk for coronavirus transmission. Enclosed and crowded settings, especially with prolonged and close contact, have the highest risk of transmission, while casual interaction in outdoor settings seems to be much lower risk. A sustainable anti-coronavirus strategy would still advise against house parties. But it could also involve redesigning outdoor and indoor spaces to reduce crowding, increase ventilation, and promote physical distancing, thereby allowing people to live their lives while mitigating—but not eliminating—risk.”

That’s good news for everyone except for house party aficionados, and it makes tonnes of sense. The outdoors by their nature can help us stay socially distanced, as we’re not confined by walls and ceilings, and in warm months we don’t necessarily want/need to be huddled together for warmth. And science has proven that fresh air and sunshine is great for mental and physical health, and maybe never more so than right now after so many of us have begun naming each wall in their house (oh, is that just me?).

Don’t take my word for it – take Marty Makary’s of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in his recent column in The New York Times: “The outdoors is not only good for your mental state. It’s also a safer place than indoors.”

This Great Outdoors Renaissance should be a source of new demand for our contacts, as people rediscovering what they can enjoy outside their doors should bring about additional need for:

  • New active wear (polyester and nylon for clothes, SBR and PBR for shoes)
  • New outdoor recreational equipment (PP, nylon, ABS, PC)
  • Drinks (PET)

And that’s just thinking on an individual activity level. Amid this pivot towards the outdoors, hospitality businesses that can expand/evolve to outdoor and/or open-air seating will reap the rewards. To do so they’ll need:

  • All-weather seating and tables (PP, epoxy resins, PC, ABS)
  • Plastic ware (PS and EPS)
  • Disinfectants (IPA, ethanol, glycerine)

And yet still, those businesses will need clear barriers for their indoor operations (PMMA and PC), while all of us will still be driving demand for masks (PP).

It comes down to this: As consumers are encouraged to get outside, what is your business doing to meet the product demand that will create?

Time to go outside and find out.