What’s Next for Corporate Sustainability in a Post-COVID19 World
In the face of the pandemic currently dominating headlines and policies of all sorts, many sustainability initiatives have been forced to take a backseat. Eyes have turned to the offsetting of existential challenges and grappling with ‘the new normal.’
However, much like the people in Shibuya or Piccadilly Circus can’t see Tokyo or London, those fixated on the pandemic miss the larger aura that looms over nearly every existential challenge we’ve faced– climate change and weak corporate environmental responsibility.
Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, is often used as a shorthand for a hodgepodge collection of generally beneficial efforts targeted at society and the environment. COVID19 comes as a stress test for those initiatives as well as for their enablers; every sustainability strategy that was being done for the sake of it now carries a heavier weight in the larger scheme of things.
As the memes and expert predictions alike quite correctly showed, the risk of a pandemic was known. If anything, this pandemic has shown a harsh light on the lack of resilience and adaptability on several social, economic, and ecological levels. Post-COVID19, companies will no longer be forgiven for overplaying their hand when it comes to the disastrous repercussions of climate change.
Before exploring what corporate sustainability will look like in a post-COVID19 world, it is worth looking into what sustainability looks like now, when the storm is continuing to rage.
Sustainability During COVID19: A Grim Picture
As countries enter and exit lockdowns and global authorities issue guidelines on curbing the spread of the coronavirus, it may appear that business sustainability strategies that are immediately implementable are the ones being shut down.
Companies are struggling with cash flows and have diverted funds to strictly essential operations– sustainable business practices are often put on the backburner since they seem like slow-burning issues not essential for survival right here, right now.
On political and policy levels, several climate-friendly regulations have been relaxed, apparently in support of companies focusing on survival. Plastic bans have been lifted in parts of the US (1), and pro-petrol groups have been lobbying for some leeway in greenhouse gas emission figures.
On individual levels, too, sustainability trends have been reversed. Reusable bags have been swapped out at grocery stores for one-time-use bags, in the interest of sanitation. The use of reusable masks and plastic gloves has actually been encouraged by governments and health bodies; disposable packaging and plastic wraps have been hailed as methods of preventing the virus from entering homes.
Overall, it is worth mentioning that since sustainability isn’t a priority in many companies and organizations, their responses to rapid changes and unprecedented times are also decidedly unsustainable. It appears that all these when put together, suggest a strong headwind that is threatening whatever little progress we have made towards sustainable development.
Corporate Sustainability After COVID19: More Opportunities
Despite the immediate reversal of some sustainability trends, the pandemic has actually opened doors for better, stronger corporate environmental and social sustainability.
It can’t be ignored that the withdrawal of the human rat race has allowed the planet to replenish and rejuvenate through natural cycles. If reports of clearer skies and lower air pollution are anything to go by, then humans have a lot of cleaning up to do– and the post-COVID19 era is the right time to do it since we didn’t get it right the first time.
Companies that have displayed social commitment and purpose during COVID19 have been largely supported by the masses; this trend will likely continue now that a greater part of the world has seen first-hand the effects of thoughtless ecological pillage. Therefore, firms that take their CSR seriously, without underestimating the value of coordinated action, will end up pushing naysayers out of the running.
As the pandemic has turned the focus to health and environment, wealthy investors will likely back more sustainable ventures in the coming months (2). Companies have also been all but forced to recheck their environments and employee welfare schemes. This change is expected to trickle down across supply chains to become a larger demand for better health and wellness.
ESG (environmental, social, and governance) factors were already on the radar of investors; the lower rate of losses in ESG funds and steady stocks of ESG value-centric and socially responsible companies are obvious indicators that they will continue to influence investments (3).
Sustainability Will Remain a Priority, Albeit Redefined
Corporate sustainability policy will continue to be prioritized even after COVID19; hopefully, more so than ever. However, it might need to redefine itself.
- A shift in focus
The focus of sustainability can be expected to shift to environmental reparation, in the light of studies that degraded habitats have an immediate influence on epidemics turning into pandemics. As seen during the 2008-09 global recession, hundreds of firms were ordered to disclose and quantify the environmental risks their operations posed; COVID19 only underscores the urgency for moving beyond disclosures to head-on action.
The eradication of pandemics will be a strong enough factor to pursue stronger climate action. It’s safe to say that the immense social and economic losses that the world has suffered over the past few months have been but a taster of what’s to come. A recession looms; countries will not want a replay of 2008 (or 2020) if they can help it.
- Building interconnected resilience
Resilience is critical in the grand scheme of things because if a fresh crisis comes, the chances that it will look and act the same as COVID19 will be low. Companies must move beyond risk anticipation to actively planning resilient and agile setups. Naturally, this will need to involve looking outside a firm’s corporate bubble to the larger biosphere. It will involve taking all factors into consideration and understanding that our individual economies are only one line in a spiderweb-like interconnected system.
- Anticipate opportunities
It is worthwhile to pay attention to the tailwinds of the pandemic; they may well bring opportunities for more diverse sustainable business development. This could be in products, services, supply chains, operations, customer transactions, production, even technologies. During lockdowns, the world quickly learned what they could live with, and without it; it’s highly unlikely that they will return to the same wasteful lifestyle, so companies had better relook at their strategies, too.
An Opportune Time to Lean in On Sustainability
EcoMatcher is one such business that firmly backs environmental sustainability in support of the people and the planet. Firms that haven’t stepped up their CSR game can now do so through gifting, rewards, loyalty, and employee engagement initiatives.
Firms that have actioned environmental and social sustainability even during unprecedented times will emerge with stronger customer relations, better reputations, and a longer lifeline.
Now is the perfect time for coordinated global action in favor of holistic sustainability initiatives.