Post Covid-19 pivots

As sustainability practitioners, we often think of climate change as a business risk and opportunity that will bring about immense change.  Yet, we could not imagine the extent of the major economic, social and environmental impacts brought about by this pandemic.

And just like climate change, we see post-Covid pivots as both a risk and opportunity. Here at Paia, we see an opportunity for a transformational agenda precisely because of the tests current systems are being put through. Here are some of our observations and lessons:

It’s a stress-test. We can understand more about how our clients’ business models can weather systemic shocks, how resilient their current business models are, helping them prepare for future shocks, such as climate change.

It’s an authenticity test. We are struck by the extent of companies [1] out there walking the talk. HP, Estee Lauder, UPS, Unilever, Pearson, Dyson, Xiaomi, Microsoft, Axial, Zomato… And it is a crucial time for clear, accurate news and information: people (including consumers) are learning about fake news on a daily basis.

It’s a governance/leadership test. We recognise that Boards [2] and Governments are assessing risk and responding, and are redefining their definitions of risk to encompass broader, sustainability related risks, including health and disease.

It’s an education test. From the reminder to parents of how hard teaching actually is, to the impact on universities finances. Companies are now learning and measuring the effect of lockdown on households (new ways of working), their spending habits (local, online), eating habits (healthier?), community bonds (stronger), holiday aspirations (decarbonized?)…

It’s a “systems thinking” test. Recent pandemics, according to the UK’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, are a “direct consequence of human activity – particularly our global financial and economic systems, based on a limited paradigm that prizes economic growth at any cost”.

It’s a commitment test. The Sustainable Development Goals are a good indication of what needs to be done (ie, depart from business-as-usual, innovate, change business models) to achieve a sustainable economy.

We advocate careful discussion about the place of science-based and risk-based sustainability strategy in your organization. Resilience [3] is surfacing as a key business topic. It now sits alongside efficiency. Resilience means operating within the system boundaries of the planet and society.

We note that companies that take sustainability seriously are weathering the storm better than most [4]. Yes: purpose trumps profit. Stakeholder capitalism and multi-capital theory could apparently beat shareholder capitalism and pure financial metrics.

After all the social restrictions and the economic pause have passed, we’ll be living with COVID-19 (and others) for some time. Let the ‘sustainability’ learning by businesses and stakeholders now flourish. From human rights in supply chains, to innovation in operations, from circular economy projects, to new ways of reporting: the unprecedented transformation is triggering new ways of defining value. Let what you do be useful, all of the time.

We look forward to supporting you on this new strand of your sustainability ‘journeys’.


Paia team, May 2020