Pandemic and Sustainability: Challenge and Hope
March 22nd 2020
The world is facing one of the worst health crises witnessed in our lifetime. It led to the World Health Organisation declaring COVID-19 as a pandemic, an infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus, unknown before the outbreak in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. So far (as of 20th March), we have globally around 200000 identified cases of people infected and more than 8000 deaths, with most experts not being able to anticipate when, worldwide, the pick will be registered. These are defining moments where the best of humankind needs to come to shore. As individuals we all must act responsibly, understanding that our misbehaviour (not following the instructions of health authorities) can lead to the loss of precious lives. Values like solidarity, respect, sustainability, dignity gain an even more relevant stance. And as Corporations, now more than ever, to act under the understanding that there is a “greater good”, is paramount. Preserving the wellbeing and safety of employees and stakeholders in general – nothing will be able to thrive without it – needs to be top of the priority list. Whilst for a great number of SMEs (Small and Medium enterprises) it will be all about nothing less than survival, major Corporations have an added responsibility to act…responsibly. COVID19 could become a golden moment for those companies to really rise to the challenge and prove that their Sustainability ambitions are “for all seasons”. An outstanding opportunity to gain customer trust and loyalty, create the emotional bond likely to resist the test of times. Michelle Edkins, BlackRock's global head of investment stewardship, said in an interview this week that “the pandemic could help sort out which companies have kept a long-term focus and have strong human capital management and business continuity plans. The concept of long-term sustainability would suggest that companies that come through this crisis and do well would be exactly the kinds of companies you would look to as role models". She said this in the context of a question on criteria to assess voting against renewing mandates of directors… As we emerge from the crisis (and we will!), a significant amount of “lessons learnt” will be there for the picking. Many aspects of our lives are bound to change (from the way we interact to the way we work or study) and there will be great opportunities for Companies to reinvent themselves to more Sustainable models – economical, environmental and social models. The invisible enemy is giving us a chance to progress. We see Hope in the horizon. Have a great and impactful week…staying safe.
Nuno Moreira da Cruz
Center for Responsible Business & Leadership Católica Lisbon School of Business and Economics