Vaccines, Value and Partnership: How Covid-19 is shaping sustainability
Covid-19 is a wake-up call for the world. In just one short year it has exposed the fragility and unpredictability of our existence, demonstrated the value of partnerships in solving an existential threat and made it clear that we cannot simply go back to the way we were.
It is this confronting experience that I believe is now shaping a different, more urgent desire to find and apply innovative solutions to some of the most difficult sustainability challenges we face.
Twelve months ago, when cars quit the roads, aircraft left the skies and consumption slowed, it gave us a tantalising glimpse of a much de-carbonised world but it also revealed the enormity of the change that it will take to deliver.
But for all its attractions, what we saw was not sustainable. The personal, financial and business toll is immense. So finding new ways to deliver a similar outcome without destroying lives and livelihoods – and to do so quickly – is the core challenge. And that’s what businesses like mine are figuring out ways to address. In the last 10 years, we have more than halved our emissions and are driving towards more in the coming decade- something that will have a considerable impact on the value we create and the way that we are valued.
Re-thinking value and the sustainable business agenda
Economists, politicians, financial and business leaders are radically re-thinking the link between sustainability, business and value.
In the chaos of the pandemic, some expected this ‘rethink’ to stall or slow. But the crisis has sharpened the focus on all aspects of sustainability – from climate protection to community cohesion – and the most forward-thinking businesses are building this into their recovery plans.
The evidence of the ongoing and accelerating market shift behind sustainable business strategies is clear. ESG funds captured $51.1bn of net new money from investors in 2020, a record and more than double the prior year, according to Morningstar. Markets are now clearly beginning to assess sustainability as a determinant of value alongside the more traditional financial, asset and market-based indicators.
For us in Coca-Cola HBC, creating value has to mean supporting the socio-economic development of the societies in which we operate as well as building a more positive environmental impact. It can’t be an “either/or” choice. In our latest materiality survey conducted in December 2020, creating economic impact was the highest rising subject, ranking third after climate and packaging.
This holistic approach to value creation will be even more critical as societies recover from Covid-19. A strong recovery is as vital for us as it is for communities generally. Rarely, if ever, has the business, NGO, political and community ecosystem been seen in such sharp focus as in the last 12 months. It has been a privilege for us to directly support the communities we serve throughout the pandemic.
Together with our partners The Coca-Cola Company and The Coca-Cola Foundation we have been able to give more than $10m in cash to the Red Cross and other NGOs, donate nearly 5 million litres of beverages and countless volunteering hours to support frontline workers and the vulnerable.
Sustaining and deepening community commitment and partnership will strengthen the recovery. That’s why, consciously, our sustainability roadmap contains specific, community-based commitments ranging from ensuring gender parity in management roles, to training one million young people, to ensuring that 10% of places on our front line manager training courses go to local community groups. This sort of community partnering is what will support recovery and create economic impact over the long term.
We don’t have all the answers
With the breadth and scale of societal, ecological and environmental challenges facing the world, it is impossible that we or any single stakeholder can have all the answers. So partnering is the only way that we as a society will find solutions. As I write, my company is partnering to support some incredible projects: using blockchain technology to create a personal, plastic-use balance sheet; an app and ‘gamification’ based approach to disposing of PET bottles for recycling; a university project exploring plastic-eating enzymes; a major potential project with a global recycling company; developing and deploying a paper bottle – the list goes on. To me, it’s no surprise that the first two approved and effective European vaccines were the result of collaboration. Whilst not all partnerships will be as successful, some will. That’s why there is no more important action that any of us in business can take than to seek out partnership and ideas and be prepared to invest our time, energy and money in finding the solutions.
Reporting, Rating and Reputation
And reporting transparently on those solutions, as we’re seeing with the vaccines, is the key to building trust and credibility. Reporting also drives performance by identifying gaps as well as the best practice ideas that will fill them. Over time, it is performance and impact rather than words that determine how others judge and view us - not how we judge ourselves. For six of the last seven years, Coca-Cola HBC has been rated as Europe’s most sustainable beverage company and for 10 years in a row, we have been ranked in the top three globally. Added to this we have the highest score or rating in many of the most important indices and surveys: CDP, MCSI, FTSE4Good. And whilst I say this with pride, I also say it with great humility because I know the scale of the challenge we face and the distance we have yet to travel. Ultimately, we will be judged by the future and not the past.
The one report we get to write ourselves is the Integrated Annual Report. If you get the chance, take a read. In terms of sustainability, it’s always going to reflect work in progress but it shows what we’re learning from CoVid and how we’re adapting our approach as a result.Sean O’Neill