Sustainability must be at the heart of C-Suite thinking for the 'new normal' in the wake of Covid-19

Covid-19 has been a wake-up call for many CEOs when it comes to sustainability. While many companies had already increased their actions and commitment to sustainability pre-Covi-19, the pandemic has seemingly acted as a catalyst for urgent action on climate change.

Sustainability must be at the heart of C-Suite thinking for the 'new normal' in the wake of Covid-19

If a health pandemic can ground businesses to a halt in a matter of weeks, then the stark reality hitting CEOs is the devastating impact of a global climate emergency on their products and services, their business and the socio-economic well-being of all.

In December last year, at the World Climate Summit, Capgemini Invent CEO & Group Sponsor for our responsible business agenda, Cyril Garcia made a very pertinent point in our Sustainable Business Revolution report, about the future of business, saying, “…organisations failing to grasp the sustainability agenda will cease to operate in the hard realities of the environment beyond 2030.” 

This sobering thought is something that will be weighing on the minds of the C-suite across all sectors. As a result, we are seeing sustainability jump to the top of the business agenda. The Race to Zero campaign, of which we are a founder member, launched a little over a month ago and has, in that short time, mobilised nearly 1,000 businesses to pledge to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. At Capgemini we have accelerated our plans, launching our new commitment to being net-zero by 2030 which includes managing employee travel, being conscious of office energy use by investing in smart and sustainable tech, managing waste from offices keeping circular economy in mind, and ensuring our data centres are energy efficient as well.

But what lessons can businesses take from the Covid-19 pandemic in order to start taking the necessary steps to becoming truly sustainable?

Business must contribute to society

Covid-19 has forced many organisations to question their stated mission. With fashion brands producing PPE kits at scale, and perfume houses producing sanitiser, businesses are questioning how they can ensure their businesses are ‘useful,’ ‘needed’ and sustainable.

Ultimately businesses will need to embrace an economic system that promotes sustainability, designing out waste and pollution across their entire value chains, keeping products and materials in use. The circular economy is the business model of the future.

In the post-Covid-19 world, consumers no longer want products and services that are not good for the planet. Our latest report, How Sustainability is fundamentally changing Consumer Preferences, explores this in more detail and will help C-Suite understand the implications for the business.

Business must become more efficient to help bring global carbon emissions to net-zero

‘Business as usual’ isn’t a viable option. Covid-19 should be an opportunity to look at the way we do business and find ways to transform processes to reduce overall environmental footprint, while still delivering economic value. Achieving this will require new thinking, strategies, and innovative business models and the adoption of new technologies.

One of the most significant developments in technology in terms of sustainability is the increasing ability to generate, capture, and transmit data – particularly from the IoT (internet of things) and our connected devices. The implications for what we can do with this data are huge and will be a critical feature for the sustainability agenda.

Advanced analytics provide organisations with much greater insights into their efficiency, helping to identify opportunities to reduce environmental impacts such as energy consumption in real-time. In the same way, intelligence from customer experiences can be employed to optimise the manufacturing process, producing only what is needed and significantly reducing waste.

The abundance of data also means that we will have greater traceability of our goods, helping companies ensure they are sourcing sustainable resources, which post-Covid-19, will become increasingly important.  

AI (artificial intelligence) developments can also contribute significantly to the sustainability agenda, enabling organisations to make far greater use of these growing datasets, with algorithms that can learn how to optimise operations and implement changes without human intervention. For example, the health of machinery can now be continuously analysed with maintenance triggers being automatically generated so that the engineers can fix potential issues before they interrupt production. Maintenance can also be optimised to maximise operational efficiency whilst reducing the embodied carbon from needless repairs or broken assets.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is also making a significant contribution, helping improve process accuracy, reducing waste and defective products. The reduction in rework cuts down on wasted materials and the additional energy required in remanufacturing.

Introducing more sustainable ways of working

Most businesses are already experiencing a new way of working out of daily office life, due to social distancing measures. For many organisations, the idea of virtual meetings and remote working on a mass scale would have been seen as unacceptable this time last year. At Capgemini, investment in technology and training for virtual collaboration has been a core part of our sustainable solutions to business travel for many years. In the UK, our ConnectWell campaign, which brings together virtual collaboration technology with organisational behaviour change to transform how people connect to reduce their travel, contributed to a 13% reduction in travel emission in 2019.

Covid-19 is forcing organisations to re-evaluate and redesign the way we work in order to continue in the current economic climate. The challenge will be to ensure we take this experience forwards to create work environments fit for a sustainable future, becoming more thoughtful about business travel requirements. This structure will have cost-saving and time-saving benefits through the elimination of travel - it will also be a huge factor in reducing a business’s carbon footprint.

Developing and innovating for a sustainable future

Many have described Covid-19 as the ‘big pause’. I like to think of it as the ‘big push’. It has accelerated a global digital transformation that many would have thought impossible. It is also catapulting companies to create new business models and ways of working.

Covid-19 is also drawing attention to the size of global sustainability challenges: the global lockdowns are set to trigger the largest-ever annual fall in carbon emissions in 2020, more than during any previous economic crisis or period of war. However, it is worth reflecting that current estimates on carbon emissions reduction for 2020 – with much of the world at a standstill – are around 8%. This is what we need to do year on year if we are to limit global warming and avoid a climate disaster. 

Clearly business as usual is not an option. We have the tools and innovation capacity for change. There should be no more delay.

James Robey

Topics: CSR & ethics
Tags: sustainable business | coronavirus | green recovery | net-zero | new business models
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