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How Can Businesses Be Sustainable After COVID-19?

The post-COVID business world is going to be filled with obstacles, but there are also plenty of opportunities to be had, including when it comes to creating a more sustainable society.

Jun 23, 2020
  • Education
How Can Businesses Be Sustainable After COVID-19?

A hybrid model

SiliconANGLE proposes that a transition to a hybrid model incorporating both traditional and digital operations will be the key to survival within the industrial sector. “COVID-19 is creating the acceleration of digital transformation because the only valid response in my mind as you look at these different hybrid models is a consideration of technology being a fulcrum of creating a future proof for a platform,” says Manish Chawla, global managing director of energy and natural resources at IBM Corp.

Specifically, Chawla cites new ways of working, cyber resilience, automation and intelligent workflows, systems that are available on demand, and platforms and applications that can work regardless of the location as key focus areas.

Flattening the curve

In a Forbes article, Matt Symonds, co-founder of Fortuna Admissions & CentreCourt MBA Festival, the S of QS, offers seven ways businesses can truly make themselves more sustainable in the wake of the coronavirus. These are applying the “flattening the curve” model in other key industries, such as utilities; engaging with local communities at the grass-roots level; realizing the global impact of their actions; empowering employees to be happier and more productive; pooling relevant resources to address difficult problems; prioritizing more than just profit; and embracing “green” capitalism.

Simple messaging

Based on the input of sustainability professionals, sustainability media brand edie sets forth its own set of seven tips for engaging in sustainability against the backdrop of a global pandemic. Their advice includes replacing jargon with simple messaging; mapping out audiences and their habits; encouraging decision-makers to speak the language of sustainability; clearer Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) messaging; prioritizing local communities and community engagement projects; becoming more transparent; and ongoing sustainability reporting.

European Entrepreneurial Region (EER) Award

The EU has announced a special edition of the European Entrepreneurial Region (EER) Award for 2021-2022, which will encourage more EU regions and cities to develop strategies for boosting entrepreneurship and small to medium enterprises (SMEs) with a “green and digital transition” identified as key features in the European recovery plan.

UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

Meanwhile, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has announced its 2020 start-up challenge winners are already demonstrating how we can rebuild a more environmentally responsible economy, through initiatives in low-carbon energy, plastic waste prevention, and low-carbon mobility. MBAs in sustainability are becoming more and more popular.

Sustainable Business Practices

In a 1 News interview, Sustainable Business Network chief executive Rachel Brown proposed that it may actually be more feasible for businesses to adopt sustainable practices moving forward. Specifically, Brown suggests being forced to explore remote work during lockdowns could build trust that employers need to accept the many benefits of making permanent changes.

With the hospitality industry facing special hardships during COVID, a university instructor in hotel and hospitality management in Wales asserts sustainability will be integral to the industry’s future. “There is no doubt that the foundation of hospitality is built on customer experience, but the need of the hour is that this be grounded within sustainable thinking,” Gaurav Chawla writes.

In an IOL opinion piece, Brenton Lalu, a research specialist at Africa-focused Public Investment Corporation, underscores the potential value of impact investment. “There has never been an opportune time to invest for inclusive development than in this epoch of our lives,” he asserts.

According to a Financial Times report, while Asia has traditionally lagged behind Europe and the US in following ESG standards, Asian investors are increasingly inclined toward sustainable business targets. Kiko Network Kimiko Hirato says, “Public attitudes are changing because climate change has come with floods, typhoons and heatwaves. People feel it is not just in the textbooks anymore.”

An Eco-Business piece takes a closer look at the achievements of “the corporate world’s sustainability darling” Unilever over the past decades, along with examining its role moving forward. Unilever chief executive Alan Jope says, “While we don’t really know what the world will look like post-Covid-19, I am convinced that there will be no future unless we double down on our commitments to look after people and the planet.” One robust incentive for other companies to follow Unilever’s example is that its fastest-growing brands are also its strongest in terms of sustainability.

Given the vital need for sustainability, it’s not surprising universities are getting on board. Not only are more business schools offering sustainability concentrations within their MBA programs, but more future business leaders are choosing to specialize in this vital area.

Katie Kross, managing director at the Center for Energy, Development, and the Global Environment (EDGE) at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, explains, “Students who complete these [sustainability] degrees are particularly well suited for sustainability careers because they have a solid MBA skillset (finance, accounting, marketing, strategy, operations, etc.) as well as deep subject matter expertise in environmental science and policy. That is a very powerful combination."

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Joanna Hughes


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.