Preparing for sustainability in a post-Covid-19 world

A strong and continuing focus on sustainability driven by private-public partnership, will bring us closer to our collective goal of a healthier planet in the next decade

Updated: Feb 9, 2022 03:58:29 PM UTC
Nielsen studies show that 66 percent of consumers choose a sustainable product, and 81 percent of global consumers feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment. Image: Shutterstock

As George Bernard Shaw said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” Over the last decade, sustainability has evolved from being perceived as a mere corporate exercise to becoming an indispensable business imperative. We live and do business in an unpredictable world which demands that businesses be agile, resilient, relevant, and adaptive to the growing needs of the environment we operate in. The success of a responsible business is measured by its identity, values, ethos, and a larger purpose which goes beyond profitability and has a measurable impact on communities, society and the environment at large.

Globally, while 90 percent of the executives think sustainability is important, it has been observed that only 60 percent of the corporates have well defined progressive sustainability strategies. The responsibility lies on each of us today. Hence, corporates globally need to do business in ways that contribute to a more sustainable and better shared future. Sustainability needs to be elevated as a collective and conscious action for greater good to bridge this gap.

Corporates’ focus on good governance is non-negotiable
When I reflect on the years 2020-2021, it only elucidates the resilience that has been shown by businesses and more so by people who played an instrumental role in ensuring business continuity during such extraordinarily challenging times. The Covid-19 pandemic has been a reality check for everyone across the world. In addition to that, with surmounting environmental concerns and stress on the planet, there is absolutely no room for complacency. As businesses plan for a post-pandemic world, there is an accelerated focus on sustainability as being central to decision making – a clarion call to making businesses more responsible and accountable as the future of the planet is at stake. The learnings from the pandemic will endure and will only help us to change for the better.

Industry leaders are embracing environment, sustainability and governance (ESG) to drive value for their businesses and so are we. Businesses and corporates have reinvigorated their business strategies that are deeply rooted in responsible practices that preserve the planet for future generations. We need to constantly analyse the past and continuously evaluate the gaps to bring about the change. This ethos goes a long way in giving meaning and long-term value, while inspiring employees and leadership towards building excellence and robust governance mechanisms globally.

Sustainability finds a deeper meaning and commitment that was long overdue

The World Economic Forum, in its 2019 manifesto The Universal Purpose of a Company in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, explains how “A company is more than an economic unit generating wealth” and emphasises the need for more inclusive focus on social, economic and sustainability goals. This is only achievable when a company has a robust purpose that guides their business operations while being conscious of its impact on the environment. Therefore, business leaders must elevate the purpose of their company and adopt more progressive sustainability strategies such as an ESG-focused approach with a long-term view. These goals cannot take a back seat to other priorities even during crisis. Sustainability has evolved and will continue to and needs to be re-looked from a multi-dimensional perspective. Community contribution, water stewardship, waste management, reducing carbon footprint, aiding agricultural economy, human rights, women empowerment, diversity, equity and inclusion are areas that need collective effort, amongst many others.

Innovative solutions and stakeholder collaboration are key

Investing in sustainability is imperative to driving innovation. A classic example of this is waste management and the efforts of India Inc towards plastic circularity in India. Industry-led collective action such as the India Plastics Pact may be instrumental in bringing about a tangible change. Redesigning products to reduce plastic or augment recyclability has been an outcome of such innovations. Similar collaboration in innovation is critical to addressing the environmental challenges be it water, agriculture, energy, or carbon emissions.

Catering to evolved consumer choices

Modern consumerism is driven by conscious choices. Nielsen studies show that 66 percent of consumers choose a sustainable product, and 81 percent of global consumers feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment. This growing trend is only getting stronger as the number of millennials and generation Z is increasing. An educated and aware consumer puts his loyalty into choices that are sustainable to the planet.

Good business sense

According to McKinsey, a sustainability strategy can reduce costs substantially and can affect operating profits by as much as 60 percent. While it is still a nascent concept in India, the uptake by the corporates has been massive as it renders a principle-based approach to doing business. Not only this but a sound sustainability strategy can add brand value, meet consumer demands, increase efficiency, attract valuable talent and create new opportunities.

Sustainable change demands sustained efforts. We need to be acutely aware of our role and responsibility towards social, economic, and environmental causes. There is no greater corporate purpose than to stand together with the government, partners, people, and communities to steer towards a better shared future. I am optimistic that with a strong and continuing focus on sustainability driven by private-public partnership, the next decade will bring us closer to our collective goal of a healthier planet.

The writer is President, Coca-Cola India & Southwest Asia.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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