Covid-19 and the lockdown restrictions have forced businesses across the globe to rethink their strategy. Whilst this exceptional situation has created some severe challenges for the global economy, businesses and governments have recognised that it is also a unique opportunity to rethink, rebuild and restructure toward a more resilient and sustainable future. Last week, more than 200 top UK firms and investors including Lloyds Bank, Asda, Siemens and Sky were calling on the government to deliver a Covid-19 recovery plan that prioritises the environment. (1)
The pressure comes at the right time. The case for sustainability has never been stronger. Climate change will likely deliver many more business interruptions than Covid19 and despite the global lockdown atmospheric CO2 levels have risen sharply to a new peak this year. (2)
Sustainability as a new path to growth
Preparing and rebuilding for resilience and ensuring your business continuity plan considers these risks is vital. Despite the extraordinary challenges businesses face at the moment, the situation also creates some unique business opportunities and sustainability can be a path to new growth. Lockdown has for some offered an opportunity to step back and look at the business with fresh eyes and work on sustainability projects that might have been set aside to deal with day-to-day challenges. Now is the time to pick them up! As the signers of the letter confirm, “Measures that cut greenhouse gas emissions and stimulate the economy have the potential to be more effective in supporting jobs and economic growth [...] They'll also support our long-term climate goals and deliver better outcomes in other key areas of public interest, such as public health and wellbeing.” (1)
Having a strong sustainability strategy will be crucial for leaders within this newly forged economy, to successfully enter the new emerging markets, gain opportunities for cost savings through efficiency, and meeting growing expectations on business from legislation, investors and customers to deliver on sustainability.
Government recovery support is likely to be linked to green credentials and performance
The government has committed itself to the so-called Green New Deal slogan "Building Back Better" for a more resilient society (1). We may see that the government favours green businesses in their economy recovery strategy. Your sustainability strategy may become a key factor in your eligibility for future government grants and funds.
Are you focussed on the new opportunities that a green stimulus package will bring?
Businesses have had to adapt, using technology and new thinking to keep on track
Emerging technologies present another key opportunity to create more resilient businesses. For example, using data and AI to model future scenarios will enable businesses to foresee future risks and opportunities earlier, understand emissions better and find resource efficiencies for your business. Blockchain technologies may become a helpful tool to get better visibility of supply chain risks, identifying potential supply shortages earlier. Understanding the benefits these technologies hold will strengthen your sustainability strategy.
Design your business around your people
For some people, less commuting and disturbance from the office environment has increased work efficiency, but for others, juggling home-life and caring responsibilities during lockdown has raised stress levels. There is a great opportunity to redesign work to drive productivity, work-life balance and make you more attractive as an employer.
A more remote and flexible workforce could potentially lead to better work-life balance if supported in the right ways by employers. Currently, two-thirds of employees say that they enjoy the new autonomy given to them. However, half of respondents were not happy with their current work-life balance during lockdown. (3)
Companies need to adapt and address the challenges of physical and mental wellbeing. This could be by making sure home ‘office’ set-ups are safe and ergonomic, providing remote mental health support, and finding creative ways to retain a “team spirit” to avoid feelings of isolation. Supporting your remote workforce in new and creative ways is key.
How can you design work to make life better for your teams?
Making climate change a priority
Covid-19 has helped us to see how vulnerable our global economy and supply chains are to external shocks such as climate change. If you want to reduce future disruptions to your business, now is the time to gear your business towards long-term resilience.
A key starting point is to manage your emissions, committing to science-based targets and a NetZero strategy. Companies also need to understand the risks and opportunities that climate change will bring to their business. Setting up a committee to consider how physical changes, legislation, changing markets and customer needs related to climate change will affect your business is a great way to improve business resilience. This is mandatory for listed companies by 2021.
The Taskforce on Climate related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) have produced excellent guidance on managing climate-related risks and opportunities, along with free e-learning resources.
We’ve seen what cleaner cities look like - let’s keep them.
The lockdown has seen significant improvements in air quality and our towns and cities are quieter with more space for people and nature. This is an opportunity that is worth seizing and companies with high-profile impacts on the environment will have lost their license to operate if they get stuck in a business-as-usual mode.
What should you do to reduce your impact on air quality?
Communities matter and businesses can play a huge part in challenging social issues
Successful businesses are mindful of their people and the communities in which they work. An important part of a robust sustainability strategy is to go beyond philanthropy and staff volunteering, and take action where possible to address systemic challenges.
Inequality, diversity, and inclusion are three of the most important social challenges we face. Leading companies are taking action within their own operations, during the hiring process, and in their communities to ensure that talented people have equal access to opportunities and development.
Monitoring and reporting on diversity is an important first step, and diversity training and mentoring programmes for staff can help to address diversity issues within businesses. The gender pay gap legislation and the Hampton Alexander Review has brought the issue of gender squarely into the boardroom.
Recruitment is also a key area for action, and redesigning recruitment processes to minimise the impact of unconscious bias and exclusion has helped to improve inclusion. Often the issues are systemic, and leading companies are taking action to address diversity and inclusion within their communities. This can be directly, by supporting school, university and community initiatives to provide opportunities for excluded groups, or indirectly, by providing financial support to initiatives.
Whilst Covid-19 has led to business disruption, now is the time to restructure and build sustainability and social impact into your business strategy to secure a more sustainable and resilient future.