Despite the constant change around us, many organisations are trying to look forward. They are planning how to adapt for the mid- to long-term requirements of a dynamic marketplace, with an expectation that the agility embraced in the height of lockdown will need to remain.
The optimists - a trait that is common among entrepreneurial leaders - see an opportunity to ‘build back better’. Could that mean ‘better’ for the planet, people and profit? While the answer may differ for every organisation, there are certainly some common trends that build on all three.
Lockdown changed behaviours dramatically and some positive environmental consequences were observed. The sudden cessation of the daily movements of people and goods emptied our roads and skies of traffic. Data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) showed that some of the most dangerous forms of air pollution dropped by 30-40% on average in urban areas, between day one of lockdown and the end of April.
At the same time, early data suggests carbon dioxide emission levels also fell, by as much as 55% in Central London and 20% elsewhere in the UK.
Something else was changing too. Office workers accustomed to long days away from the home were now spending all day within their households. Flexible working became the norm for those not furloughed. There was less travel, which in turn had environmental benefits with many meetings moved online.
The scant allocation of daily time outdoors became precious to many; unseasonably good weather encouraged us into gardens, parks and the countryside on our doorsteps. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) recorded a fivefold increase in requests for gardening advice on its website and, according to one study, Brits spent £3.7bn on gardening during lockdown.
Of course, there were many new stresses experienced during lockdown too, but these only served to heighten the significance of paying attention to our health and wellbeing.
Some of the most memorable positive reactions to the early weeks of living with the pandemic were the stories that emerged of businesses working together to solve the challenges we faced. Whether that was manufacturers working with engineers throughout their supply chain to design and make components for ventilators or PPE, or parts of the foodservice industry ‘pivoting’ from serving the hospitality sector to distributing food to the public.
The strength of supply chains was measured in relationships, agility, and cooperation. In many cases, there was also a need to replace hard-to-reach overseas partners with those closer to home. While international trade remains vital, it is likely that the re-framing of patterns of distribution will create room for new relationships across communities, bringing benefits to local economies.
There is another aspect to responsible sourcing which organisations of all sizes and sectors can consider. Increasingly, large and small producers are placing ‘purpose’ at the heart of their offering. This means it is possible for buyers to make choices where the social or environmental impact of each purchase can be traced and, in many cases, quantified.
As business leaders know, a long-term view requires not just a set of tactics, but a clear vision and strategy that takes account of the impact we intend to have in the world. We have written about the importance of purpose, here.
Ultimately, we need our businesses to be sustainable; literally, to sustain all our stakeholders, whatever is thrown at us. By doing so, each sustainable organisation has a role to play in an economic ecosystem; not just rippling through the supply chain, but among our communities too.
Before the pandemic of 2020, there was a different global crisis headlining much of the news and political agenda. In May 2019, the UK Parliament declared an Environment and Climate Emergency, as a response to growing public calls for action. A momentum was building as citizens took to the streets, politicians made declarations and drafted bills, and many businesses examined ways of working, accreditations and the sharing of best practice to improve their environmental and social impacts.
Now, we have an opportunity to re-focus our minds on what sustainability means as we learn to live alongside Covid-19, for a while longer at least, and look ahead to a new world.
The mix and opportunities are going to be different for everyone and every business. As business models re-build, we will get new choices on how we work as people, how to preserve and create profit, but also how our new way of work affects the planet.
Hazlewoods business advisers have been helping clients create a #BusinessForTomorrow. To find out more about our people and how we can help, contact Ryan Hancock on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01242 680000.