In recent years, sustainability has moved on from a corporate buzzword to become a measurable component of any business that wants to be successful in the 21st century.
The Triple Bottom Line—Profit, People and Planet—has evolved from a 1994 call to action by John Elkington, founder of the British consultancy SustainAbility, to a solid business tenet for corporate governance which I think now encompasses business resilience under three key pillars: the evolution of business models, new and more sustainable products and services and the empowerment of the workforce.
However, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, many organisations have had to take drastic steps to survive. This has led to many entering survival mode and putting long-term business priorities such as sustainability on the sideline temporarily.
Our research last year found that at the height of the COVID19 crisis last year, 38 per cent of organisations decreased attention on environmental sustainability, whilst 18 per cent put it on hold completely.
This was expected, with many businesses having to focus on digital transformation to ensure they could remain functional. The same survey found that 46% of organisations increased their focus on digitisation and 28% on product innovation.
This trend is understandable and could even be beneficial in helping businesses become more sustainable, as going digital is a leap in the right direction for business sustainability. By reducing reliance on travel and paper-based evidence, and increasing their ability to collaborate virtually, companies can reduce their carbon footprint and innovate more sustainably.
Making sustainability a priority
As organisations come out of survival mode, they need to quickly return to making sustainability a priority. This can be done by setting short to mid-term goals to help reach long-term ambitions and building upon the already accelerated digital transformation to reduce their footprint and increase their handprint (i.e. their positive impact on the environment and communities).
A study by Accenture launched at the World Economic Forum in January shows for instance the untapped potential of virtual twin technology in helping reducing emissions, waste and speeding up innovation. The faster industries adopt these innovations, the more sustainable and resilient their business will be.
Placing sustainability at the heart of business can have real benefits to the bottom line. A number of studies have shown that companies that take sustainability and environmental, social and governance (ESG) seriously have outperformed their markets. This means sustainability is no longer just a nice to have for businesses. Eco-conscious consumers will continue to vote with their wallets, meaning businesses failing to take it seriously will lose revenue and struggle to keep pace with competition.