Republished with permission, this article first appeared on Longitudes, UPS’s thought leadership blog.
Right now, sustainably minded business is good business. The global coronavirus pandemic has jeopardized the health of our communities, impeded our ability to support local business — causing a historical spike in unemployment — and prevented us from connecting with friends and families.
In damaging the wellbeing of communities around the world, coronavirus has also hurt the wellbeing of small business stakeholders. So, if we want the economy to thrive in this new world, we need to do well by our neighbors.
A sustainable mindset champions a neighborly spirit. Sustainability not only cares about the protection and conservation of our planet but also about good and ethical corporate governance and a mindfulness toward social responsibility. A sustainable business not only wants to meet the needs of customers today but also wants to ensure it can meet needs well into the future.
The novel coronavirus puts these values into focus. For example, folks that live in areas with lowered air quality as a result of pollution generally suffer from higher rates of asthma and other respiratory issues. That might unfortunately mean they are at risk for worse outcomes from COVID-19.
In communities where leaders encourage and practice sustainability, where businesses do the right thing when no one is looking, we can mitigate such consequences.
Business and health
What happens when business resumes as normal? In all likelihood, consumers are going to more readily turn to companies they believe have the public’s best interest in mind.
With masks, gloves and disinfectant wipes in hand, folks are going to be judicious with their dollar. Genuine action and effort in sustainability inspire consumer trust. In the times of coronavirus, such action can take many forms.
First and foremost, companies must prioritize their employees and their families. Conserving business continuity is key to putting dollars in your employees’ hands — and therefore having money in local economies when Main Street reopens.
If possible, keeping employees on the books and feeling productive is an effective way to provide stability to a critical stakeholder demographic. With many companies confronted with tough decisions, employee wellbeing should be among the first considerations.
Right now, health is the top priority for businesses worldwide. Everyone benefits from a functioning economy, and that only happens if we can keep everyone safe.
An environmentally conscious economy
More holistically — and more in line with the traditional sense of sustainability — we now have the opportunity to reflect on current practices and improve the way we operate. In isolation, as individuals and as organizations, we’ve all learned how to live greener.
“A sustainable business not only wants to meet the needs of customers today but also wants to ensure it can meet needs well into the future.”
To start, it’s important for companies to analyze the impact of what they are doing now, so they can understand how to implement change when we return. It can be as simple as being more mindful about waste, perhaps doubling down on recycling signage around the office.
Any change requires communication to stakeholders with language that aligns values and good business. Sustainability today means protecting the economy of the future.
This has always been true — the climate approach is no different — but COVID-19 presents a different urgency (and hopefully, we can come together to apply the lessons learned in early action to saving the environment).
The correlation between mortality and air pollution poses an immediate danger to our health and safety, triggering fight or flight. It’s time to stop listening to our flight response and start fighting climate change now — danger is not just generations in the future but present and measurable today.
“What happens when business resumes as normal? In all likelihood, consumers are going to more readily turn to companies they believe have the public’s best interest in mind.”
Sustainability is about consciousness and a kinder sensibility. It’s about caring for your neighbor and knowing that the collective best interest is also your best business interest.
Sustainability is, in the current climate, a sign of strength and a reason for folks to turn to you when things return as normal. So, businesses should seize the moment and work to shape a sustainable vision of the future, one where we tackle pandemics and climate change alike.