Lockdowns around the world brought the return of birdsong to quiet city streets, but the pandemic also led to many businesses pausing investment in sustainability. A survey by sustainable business specialist Edie found that just 30pc of professionals said their company was continuing to invest in sustainability and energy-saving technology during the pandemic.
However, the end of lockdown could offer an impetus for companies to work on their environmental footprint, believes Phil Jones, managing director at business technology solutions provider Brother UK. He says: “The coronavirus outbreak has certainly suspended many companies’ proactive sustainability efforts, but there has been something of an ‘accidental upside’. While many decision makers have been in the trenches, protecting livelihoods, flights have been grounded, vehicles left stationary and offices largely empty, which will have delivered some serious CO2 savings.
“Many businesses will still be on target to hit their sustainability goals, albeit perhaps by accident. And when they’re out of suspension mode and able to refocus their efforts on sustainable growth, the hope is they can pick up where they left off.
“An unintended consequence of lockdown is that we’ve all had a taste of a world with cleaner air. Now we have an opportunity to accelerate progress and keep it that way, by changing the way we work, travel and consume goods.”
Companies are currently having to balance environmental goals with basic survival, says Prof Jonatan Pinkse, executive director of the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research, Alliance Manchester Business School. “While many are verbally committing to a greener recovery, they’re not all demonstrating that in practice.
“Many companies are in a hurry to get back on track to pre-Covid performance and are reverting to old ways of doing things as a result. Businesses are under pressure to turn around their performance and, in their haste, they’re avoiding investing in newer and more innovative practices.”
Businesses need to learn from the rapid changes of the past few months and break out of old, rigid ways of thinking, Prof Pinkse believes. “Above all, cross-sector collaboration is what will really push firms to become more sustainable. Doing something about sustainability means getting out of your comfort zone and being agile enough to pivot business models and trial new activities. That can only be achieved by acquiring new business partners to access new technologies and skills.”
‘Building back better’
Businesses need to have a complete mindset shift to adapt to the post-pandemic world, says Lord Deben, chairman of Sancroft, who was known earlier in his political career as John Gummer.
He says: “Business can never be the same again. If there is one lesson as we emerge from lockdown, it is how unacceptably vulnerable the machinery of commerce upon which our livelihoods depend is to shocks beyond our control.
“So to go back to the old ways of leading and managing businesses would be to assume that there will never be another traumatic shock. We can and must shape our businesses so that they are more resilient and less vulnerable.”
As businesses rebuild after the pandemic, Lord Deben, who was the Environment Secretary in 1993-97, says that sustainability must be at the centre of their business model. “We must restart, reimagine and regenerate our businesses so that they are fitted for the sustainable economic recovery that governments are recognising as the only feasible way out of this crisis.
“Building back the same is not on the agenda. Building back better makes sustainability the only business strategy. Today, the facts of business life make it necessary to change our definition of economic growth to include social and environmental indicators. GDP is no longer a dependable index.”
Companies need to build on new habits established during the pandemic, says Mitchel White, founder of sustainable branding and marketing agency Reward. “Home working has become commonplace in the wake of coronavirus. Flexible working should be available to everyone where possible and/or greener commuting should be encouraged and incentivised. Increasing bike storage is an ideal solution.”
The weaknesses exposed in supply chains by the pandemic could lead to a boom in onshoring, Mr White believes, with important effects on the environment.
He says: “Companies should look at supply chains and the circular economy again. Supply chains ground to a halt and PPE [personal protective equipment] was hard to come by. After years of offshoring and cheap manufacturing, we could see a rise of onshoring, which could decrease the impact of logistics carbon damage and reduce our reliance and contribution to the most polluting economies in the world.”
Accelerating business transformation
From streamlining existing processes to monitoring and controlling expenditure, successful business transformation is vital to remaining competitive.
To find out more about how you can transform your office technology, visit Brother’s business transformation area brother.co.uk/business-transformation