COVID-19 is often called ‘unprecedented’. A pandemic that spreads throughout the world very quickly and shuts down entire economies. But the reality is experts have been warning that exactly this kind of pandemic has been on the cards for years.
From Government exercises showing how unprepared countries were for a pandemic outlining worst case scenarios in mock-up projects (search), to scientists like warning that a pandemic is imminent, it seems ‘unprecedented’ doesn’t reflect the true picture. In reality, the global pandemic of 2020 is visible, tangible and effective evidence of exactly how an unsustainable ecosystem has real world repercussions.
An out of balance ecosystem will hinder economic recovery plan
An ecosystem out of balance can – and does – bring widespread economic damage. It increases social inequality, affects millions of lives and millions of businesses. We’re seeing this not just with the pandemic but with the ever more apparent affects of climate change. This year started with immense forest fires in Australia. And now in August, the fire season in California and other regions is underway with a vengeance.
Storms like Hurricane Laura in the US are leading to warnings that some weather events are ‘not survivable’. Coastlines are being decimated and at some point in the near future, people will begin migrating inwards away from the areas that are worst hit by these catastrophic weather events. Events like these put millions of lives and businesses at risk all around the world. Crucially, the continuing degradation of our natural ecosystem that results in pandemics, weather induced catastrophes and shortages, poses a substantial risk to the survival of the current global economic system.
What can businesses do to shift the focus to sustainability?
Businesses, supply chains and countries that heavily depend on natural resources are constantly facing the reality of depleting supplies. When natural resources become more and more scarce, costs rise sharply, and supplies are disrupted. This is not a problem for an unspecified future moment, but rather something that business leaders are facing right now.
Securing viable long-term supply chains, maintaining welfare standards for employees and keeping stakeholders happy – this complex mix of tasks is testing employers. All of which shows that we are interlinked with the natural ecosystem, and that its sustainability underpins the stability of the global and of local economies.
For true long-term economic recovery after COVID-19, sustainability must be at the heart of every business. I don’t think we can expect to return to ‘business as usual’, and nor should we. Instead, businesses must look forward and embrace the changes they must undergo.
Incorporate sustainable development goals into business plans
Using the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), business all around the world can transform the way they work. Similarly, businesses can use sustainability targets of their individual governments to consider ways they can make tangible changes right now.
The traditional model of sustainable business has been that it is the responsibility solely of a country’s Government must also change. Businesses and Governments must be dually responsible for ensuring sustainability and green measures are at the core of their economic recovery plans.
What do I mean by this? Well, it’s no longer enough for businesses to see their role within creating a sustainable business ecosystem as fulfilled through a CSR team or department. Every business activity and decision must instead shift towards the kind of innovative development that creates sustainability. It’s should be incorporated into a company’s DNA and acted on at every opportunity.
Include sustainability in corporate strategy and plans for economic recovery
The creation of a roadmap of how to include SDGs will help to formulate a workable plan. Particularly relevant for large multinational businesses, a sustainability plan can go a long way to cementing its commitment to working towards creating and developing a working culture that includes sustainability in its business model.
Large corporations should be ambitious with these models for a sustainable working practice and a commitment to the future. They have the power and resources to make tangible differences within their local communities, for other business sectors that are hardest hit by COVID-19, to maintain historic and endangered sites, to ensure arts and culture gets back up and running and the creation of eco-friendly buildings
COVID-19 has shown us all that we need to take personal and collective responsibility for rebalancing the ecosystem. Without this commitment, understanding and determination, we risk the economic stability not only for our businesses, but for our country and wider network too.
Working together across the board to make changes
For business owners and leaders, changing focus from solely profit towards sustainability is about much more than just creating a top-level strategy. It’s also about raising awareness about how everyone really can make a difference. Change can start with small steps and as employees see and feel the difference they can make too, the faster the move towards sustainability will gain momentum.
Perhaps most importantly, the corporate sector must see itself as part of the solution for these profound social, business and global problems that are presenting a challenge to us all.