A better way

How will COVID affect the Sustainable Development and Company equation?: global problems require global responses.
COVID-19 is an opportunity for us to rethink and improve upon many of things that we have been doing. One such thing is how we understand companies in terms of sustainable development.

We now have a chance to profoundly transform at least 5 dimensions, which our international network refers to as a Sustainable Brand. At Quiero, we are working specifically with this SB Brand Transformation Roadmap to guide progress in these 5 dimensions.

We have already seen how many industries have adapted to do their part in the solution for COVID-19 in terms of innovation in business and product/service models. This clearly shows that we can indeed transform businesses rapidly: not only for small companies but also large corporations. During our conversations, HIP Investors founder Paul Herman told me about the concept of “social millionaire” for companies. How many people am I helping? How can I become a “social millionaire”? That’s where innovation comes into play, because it will help me generate a product that responds to a need.

In light of the continuous failure of innovations in our day-to-day corporate operations, it is no surprise that many companies are reconverting in response to the crisis: reconverted production lines, distribution systems, etc. It left me wondering how innovations could scale so easily in such times. Forum for Future CEO Sally Uren pointed out the major lessons in innovation that we have been witnessing in many businesses during a recent conversation: we need an enabling context for any innovation to scale and prosper, namely access to the proper capital and a suitable framework of policies. Innovations are normally “injected” into a system, yet incapable of taking root in fertile soil.

When addressing the dimensions of Purpose and Brand Influence, I believe that there is a gap between the announced purpose and the active purpose in many organisations. We have seen some incredibly generous and effective companies lately, yet this has revealed nothing in terms of how to activate a purpose. The problem lies in that, unlike what some companies believe, a purpose is something more than just a connection to the exterior, citizens and society. A purpose is something that should be imbued inside the company, linked to these talents and unique contributions that only the company can provide on the basis of its realities, employees and internal culture.

This purpose must also be the real lever of innovation. A truly genuine purpose (from the inside growing outwardly) simplifies decision-making in times such as these when action is needed and in the face of any crisis. John Izzo, author of books such as “The Purpose Revolution”, gave me one of his typically erudite responses by commenting on the substantial lesson that employees are having and will have during this crisis with regard to their companies: “Is this company concerned about me and my health and safety?” This needs no further explanation. While we might all be concerned about “having a job”, this is a moment of truth that will never be forgotten.

Turning to the Governance and Transparency dimension, we could certainly benefit from ruminating on how transparency, information dissemination and collaboration are evolving these days and how the roles of society, company, administration and science are morphing as we assume systematic changes.

Regarding Supply Chain and Operations, we are seeing a plethora of dramatic changes these days but little of the resilience guaranteed by globalisation and production decentralisation. I am also left with the need for how businesses should support the most vulnerable communities in their supply chain and how to really establish strong collaborations. In any case, I do have one very basic question that a couple of clients asked me recently: where does the environment stand in this crisis? In the context of growing inequality and unemployment at the wake of this crisis, will environmental initiatives lose steam?

This pandemic is unquestionably linked to our present environmental crisis and this question will be brought to light in the coming days. The destruction of biodiversity causes new problems in the balances of our ecosystems, releasing or facilitating the possibility of certain distortions such as spreading diseases. This, together with melting polar ice caps, which also releases bacteria and viruses that had been locked up millions of years ago, and the effect of pollution in cities lead scientists to draw an evident connection between the climate and environmental crisis and this pandemic.

Must we choose one over the other? That would be impossible, since they are intrinsically connected. And what if there were companies concerned about survival enough to postpone investments in operations so we can make this transition to sustainability? It may happen, but they will be forced to make up for that shortage soon, because society is going to demand such a transition. The Green New Deal stands as a guarantee for economic recovery as society begins understanding that our health is linked to the health of ecosystems. Let’s not lose it.

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