Lessons from coronavirus: Sustainability is a global, shared purpose

The coronavirus pandemic has taught us one more valuable lesson: how interconnected the world is, the environment and economy alike. And it is our shared responsibility to sustain both.
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Adversity also presents opportunities and this year has given all of us a unique opportunity to pause and consider how we can be purposeful and drive impact through our actions. The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has reinforced the links between health, environment, and the economy.

While the crisis has exposed weaknesses in the dominant ‘take-make-waste’ linear business model it has also brought forward the realisation about the interconnected nature of the world we live in.

The one thing that the pandemic has starkly demonstrated is the importance of building resilience in communities and company value chains.

We have learnt that it is the shared responsibility of the businesses and the communities to look ahead and assess how to ensure development that is sustainable as the society faces a host of challenges: including the proliferation of single-use plastics, rethinking our approach to food waste, lack of environmental awareness, and inclusion of the most vulnerable communities.

Being purpose-led for the future

Sustainable development must be driven by a long-term purpose, one that strives to make a positive impact on millions of people, the communities and the environment we share. While businesses must move away from being transactional agents and towards becoming a force for good, this shared purpose must also translate into tangible action and embody every action and decision the business takes.

We must galvanise our workforce to come together and form stronger relationships with each other and the planet.

The role of corporations to drive impact in communities

The role of businesses in contributing to sustainable development is more critical than ever today. If sustainable development is to achieve its potential, it must be integrated into the planning and measurement systems of businesses. Here is how organisations can move forward:

  • By integrating environmental considerations into the business planning and decision making processes, be it the product research and development, new manufacturing methods, supply chain considerations etc.
  • Keeping the guiding principles of reduction, reuse, recycling and regeneration at the centre of decision making.
  • Involving everyone in the value chain, building relationships with all stakeholders- including employees, suppliers, policymakers, educational institutions, public interest groups, and the general public.

An appropriate corporate culture

In the industrial era, companies were built on the idea of being boisterous. One had to be the biggest and the boldest to stay on top of their game or risk being eaten up by the competition.

This culture was reflected in all realms of decision making. But now, what we’re up against is not just other companies but nature itself. It is important to internalise the externalities and acknowledge that no one organisation can solve this by themselves.

Now is the era of being empathetic and responsible with our business. With commerce being largely affected by globalisation, resource scarcities, and human rights issues, we must look to forge new collaborations and explore the ideas of value chain sustainability, sustainable procurement, sustainable supply chain communities, and corporate citizenship together to understand how making each stakeholder group more sustainable contributes towards long- term success and transformations.

Involve your employees as the change agents

Businesses must align sustainability and social responsibility as a common goal. It is imperative for organisations to develop a culture that encourages employee participation, and handholds them for continuous learning towards sustainability goals.

As the saying goes, ‘it takes a village’ to embed sustainable business practices into the entire organisation, rallying the workforce behind the shared purpose of sustainability can bring in an impactful force.

Positive change in attitudes and practices

The best pairing of sustainability is with curiosity. Now more than ever, consumers have begun questioning some long-established industrial practices. With consumption rising at unprecedented rates, questions like the ones below have become commonplace:

  • Where do my products come from?
  • Who made my products?
  • What chemicals are in these products?
  • What happens to them when I put them in the waste bin?

While organisations will need to start asking the all-important question of corporate purpose, individually all of us will need to be more conscious of our daily life choices and governments will need to include and empower broader stakeholders in sustainable development journey and countries will need to collaborate with a sense of urgency to restore our planet!

It is authored by Mr. Mahesh Pratap Singh, Head of Sustainability at Flipkart.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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