26 July 2020

COVID 19 will make sustainability a bigger corporate priority

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Recovery planning bringing environment, diversity and inclusion to the top of many leaders’ agendas.

When Amazon purchased the naming rights to Seattle’s KeyArena, future home to the city’s new NHL franchise, the company was presented with a unique opportunity. Like most other rights’ holders, they could use the exclusive branding on one of the city’s most recognizable buildings as a billboard for the company, draping the facility in the Amazon name and logo. Or they could eschew the traditional approach and use the opportunity to highlight one of the company’s core business priorities in bright lights for an entire city – and nation – to see.

“Instead of calling it Amazon Arena, we’re naming it Climate Pledge Arena as a regular reminder of the urgent need for climate action,” Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO and founder, said in an Instagram post announcing the decision. “It will be the first net-zero carbon-certified arena in the world, generate zero waste from operations and events, and use reclaimed rainwater in the ice system to create the greenest ice in the NHL.”

Amazon’s decision is just one of many examples of the growing focus by organizations big and small to bring sustainability to the forefront. And while the challenges of the first half of 2020 may lead many to believe that sustainability will take a short-term back seat to other efforts aimed at offsetting the impact of COVID-19, the opposite may in fact be true.

One of the most interesting findings of our new Navigator Resilience: Build back better report is that two in five (41%) Canadian businesses say that the events of the past six months have led them to believe that sustainability is more important than ever before, and a significant majority of Canadian businesses (84%) say that the need to reassess/review their operations in the wake of COVID-19 will enable them to rebuild their businesses on firmer foundations. In fact, worldwide, nine in 10 companies (91%) say this will be a priority in the coming years.

“COVID-19 has put ESG issues more clearly in the spotlight. Companies with strong ESG practices have seen their stocks perform better during this current pandemic, highlighting their resilience to economic shocks,” says Dana Krechowicz, Senior Sustainable Finance Manager, HSBC Bank Canada.

More than half of Canadian companies polled for this report say they will be monitoring the impacts of air quality, sanitation/pollution, managing resource scarcity and energy transition.

It’s not just environmental sustainability on the minds of businesses leaders. More than a quarter of Canadian companies surveyed felt diversity and inclusion (29%), sustainable infrastructure (29%) and increasing transparency through data (28%) are aspects of sustainability that will directly impact their business.

Research suggests that as many as three-quarters of Canadians consider sustainability an important factor when making purchases, and business leaders are taking notei. Forty-one per cent of Navigator respondents said they feel that customer/consumer demand will be among the biggest pressures for businesses to become more sustainable. Pressure from regulatory authorities (69%), employees (33%) and shareholders, owners, investors (27%) are also expected to increase over the coming 24 months.

“Consumers want to know that company values are reflected in the way they do business in a time of crisis. As a result, we expect to see an increasing focus on ESG from both companies and investors throughout the pandemic recovery period and after,” adds Krechowicz.

There are many ways that businesses can look to become more sustainable in their culture, operations and approach.

COVID-19 has led to closer evaluation of supply chains, presenting the opportunity to adopt new strategies that incorporate environmental sustainability considerations. Improving corporate approaches and emphasis on diversity and inclusion can be implemented immediately through training, improved hiring policies, compensation reviews and establishing employee resource groups. There’s also dedicated financing options available to support businesses that meet eligible criteria for their sustainability initiatives.

As the country begins to reopen and as businesses begin to move into the new normal, there is a distinct opportunity to rethink operations, suppliers and organization culture to benefit not only the bottom line but the broader world as well.

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