COVID-19 has accelerated – rather than slowed – the movement towards better business. That was the overwhelming verdict of the expert panel recently brought together by Grayling to discuss the findings of our recent whitepaper New Collectivism: Building Better Business.
Our research found that over two thirds of senior leaders in large companies agree that businesses have a collective responsibility to the societies in which they operate. Underscoring the effect of the pandemic and looking ahead to a crucial COP26 in Glasgow, three quarters of these senior leaders also said that ESG issues would be more important this year.
Commenting on the results of the research panellist and All Together founder Jamie Mitchell maintained that he had expected the pandemic to knock the sustainable business movement off course. Instead, he said, “COVID just revealed the stark inequalities in society in this bleak way, revealed the fragility of the planet in this most clear way – and a new wave of civic leadership appeared from business [as a result].”
He argued that the pandemic has reinforced and accelerated existing arguments and trends around better business: “We seem to be coming out of the pandemic with a universal, singular point of view…which is very exciting.”
For panellist Roksana Ciurysek-Gedir, Chairwoman of the Impact Advisory Board of White Oak Global, the banks and investors who were previously sceptical about sustainability and who advocated the “profit only” model are now also on board. During the discussion, she characterised the old approach as “maximising profit, then throw money to fix environmental problems caused by this approach afterwards.” Now though, almost the entire sector agrees that “the sustainability revolution is the biggest investment opportunity in history. There isn’t a single institutional investor who isn’t talking ESG and impact investing.”
However, according to Ciurysek-Gedir, only measurement and transparency can ensure that businesses are keeping their promises when it comes to sustainability. “We know that if something is not measured, it doesn’t get done.”
Kerry Irwin, Director of Communications, EMEAR at Tetra Pak pointed the role of consumers when it comes to this shift in business thinking. “It’s one of their biggest concerns”, she argued. While responding to this pressure and effecting change across a huge organisation can seem daunting, businesses have to make deliver on what they promise: “even if it’s small steps.” “It requires a full 360 degree change right across the business.”
Dan Mobley is Corporate Relations Director at Diageo. During the webinar, he underlined how the understanding of profit and risk in the business world had dramatically shifted over the course of recent years – particularly for a company that counts some of the world’s oldest brands among its portfolio. “When you’re looking at taking decisions where the payback is decades away, you have to build a sustainable and inclusive business – the cost of inaction is very real.”
However, he cautioned against some of the “utopian” rhetoric around sustainability and warned that trade-offs are inevitable for global businesses. “For example, one of the easier ways to get to net zero is going to be invest in clean technology in rich countries rather than poor ones. Business, governments and civil society have to come together to address these trade-offs because none of us can solve it alone.”
The panellists all agreed that, despite the challenges of driving change across organisations, the time for better business is now – and that the COVID-19 pandemic has only supercharged this drive for sustainability. There really is no stopping the new collectivism.
Please find the full recording of our session on the “New Collectivism” below:
If this is a challenge you recognise within your organisation, Grayling can help. We provide a wide range of expert communications services across Europe, including public affairs, public relations and digital communications. Please don’t hesitate to drop Tom Nutt, Grayling’s Head of Corporate, UK & Europe, an email to learn more.