When faced with crises or adversity, it may be tempting for companies to cut or reduce their focus on sustainability, social impact and corporate responsibility initiatives that drive toward more long-term goals and outcomes. The COVID-19 crisis has shed new light on the importance of business resiliency and long-term sustainability that can endure even during extremely unexpected scenarios.
While scrutinizing priorities, processes, procedures and partnerships, forward-thinking companies are looking for ways to make them more transparent, socially conscious and environmentally friendly. Much can be learned from the current crisis that may help identify holes and risk exposure and determine additional ways to tighten up supply chains and improved sustainability efforts.
It is not surprising that in a 2018 study from Nielsen, nearly half of U.S. consumers said they were likely to change purchasing decisions to align with environmental standards. Now, a study from Kearney shows that this sentiment has not slowed over the last couple months, and consumers are acknowledging a more direct link between their health and the health of the planet. The consulting firm conducted a survey 1,000 consumers—both in early March, and again in early April this year. In response to the impacts COVID-19 has had on purchasing attitudes, 48% of respondents said the pandemic has made them more concerned about the environment, and 55% reported that the experience has made them more likely to purchase environmentally friendly products. Consumers are demanding more authenticity and action when it comes to supporting health and protecting the planet.
Companies that remain committed to sustainability during the crisis will likely benefit from improved corporate reputation, strengthened customer and partner relationships, and improved corporate morale.
Evaluate your sustainability strategy
In some ways, the COVID-19 crisis has provided an unprecedented backdrop for the sustainability agenda and an opportunity for companies to see how they can address a range of environmental, social and governance (ESG) challenges. The risk of a pandemic was only a rare possibility, and the crisis has exposed adaptability and resilience scenarios many companies did not anticipate.
Additionally, performing this kind of assessment may also reveal sustainability initiatives or efforts that were previously considered unimportant or unattractive that are now seen as priorities. Now is the time to review your climate change risk exposure. What sustainability-related risks are you exposed to in areas such as public health and safety? What improvements can be made to ensure supply chain security? What is your company doing for the good of people and the planet?
Think long term
The pandemic highlights how focusing on short-term gains while ignoring challenges such as climate change, supply chain security and sustainability can be a big threat to business success. Rather than placing sustainability on the back burner, the COVID-19 pandemic should be seen as an opportunity to push forward on sustainability issues, and to inform customers and stakeholders about your actions.
Citizens around the world are calling for more socially conscious businesses that prioritize safety and wellness for people and the earth. If the past is any indication, sustainability will remain a top priority even as companies focus on survival. During the global recession of 2008-09, many predicted that companies would deem sustainability as a nonessential component of their business. That didn’t turn out to be the case. Post-recession sentiment showed increased concern about the environment, and a growing number of consumers aligning with companies that demonstrated sincere concern about their impact on communities and the planet. Today, businesses should determine which crisis-response strategies would support a more sustainable future over time.
Emphasize care of people and the planet
Conditions of the current global pandemic have forced business leaders to shift and hone the ways they think about, and nurture their relationships with, people and the planet. This critical point in time is shedding more light on the fact that the health of people and the planet are intertwined.
COVID-19 has made companies more aware of the need to promote health and wellness among employees and consumers. Companies and brands in the natural products industry are in an excellent position to not only provide resources and help to employees, but to innovate and penetrate new markets. Those that continue to emphasize quality, sustainability and transparency undoubtedly will grow during the crisis and well beyond. During quarantines and lockdowns, consumers have become more selective about items they decide to bring into their homes, and partially base these decisions on whether they have positive impact on their lives and on the world.
Ensure safety and security of supply chain
Another aspect of sourcing responsibly is ensuring an adequate supply of raw materials while preserving the earth and its resources. It becomes an even more delicate balance when demand for certain ingredients spikes, and suppliers run into supply chain disruptions. Many companies have built supply chain resiliency into their operations, and have been able to meet changing demands, while remaining true to sustainability and quality commitments.
As you address changes to your supply chain to make it more resilient in the future, consider how the same changes could improve sustainability. For example, traceability can also help enable sustainable sourcing and ensure responsible labor practices.
Look to agricultural innovation
Many raw materials in the natural products industry are botanicals harvested from the earth, and there are numerous opportunities to optimize production and lower environmental impact. New developments in agricultural science and research have enabled and validated innovative practices that have minimal impact on the earth. From seed to supplement, great care must be taken regarding ingredient safety, supply chain resiliency and sustainability.
Some farming and testing practices that may be implemented to help bolster these efforts include: biodiversity, soil preservation, seed sourcing, minimizing waste and emissions, water conservation, responsible pest management and avoiding adulterants.
Support farmers and supply partnerships
It’s also more important than ever that we take care of our supply ecosystem partners, including farmers and farm families. Farms are ecosystems in and of themselves, and many have experienced significant disruptions. Now is a critical time to find innovative ways to bring these systems back into balance, and work to lower risks to the livelihoods of these farm communities.
Corporate responsibility: We’re all in this together
The whole world is in this together. While the current crisis has impacted billions around the globe, businesses should not let sustainability efforts go by the wayside. Instead, these life-shifting changes emphasize the need for taking better care of one another and the planet. Consumers want more than just glossy, thick, polished sustainability plans and reports. Today, they are looking for tactical solutions, and businesses making real, positive, impactful changes. Companies that recognize these as priorities understand that doing so is ultimately good for business.
Communications professional Heidi Rosenberg has decades of B2B and consumer public relations, marketing and brand management experience. She supports organizations in the natural products and environmental industries, ranging from non-profits and small businesses to global enterprises. Visit Heidi Rosenberg Communications at: www.mightymopr.com.