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COVID-19 an opportunity to pursue sustainable goals

by BQ News Bureau
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At the onset of the pandemic, companies hit the pause button on sustainability initiatives to focus on their people’s immediate health and wellness. But they have since re-established momentum, driven by cost-saving opportunities and competitive advantages, according to a JLL research report.

The drive toward sustainable business practices, greener workplaces and net-zero carbon has gained traction over the last decade.

“At the very beginning of COVID – 19 there was a slowdown in activity on sustainability while everyone in the world was getting their bearings, but it came back fairly quickly,” says Mindy S. Lubber, CEO of Ceres, speaking recently at the Bloomberg Green Festival.

Take the Climate Neutral labelling system that over 70 companies were certified under in April. In June, Unilever announced it would achieve net zero emissions from all its products by 2039.

The drive toward sustainable business practices, greener workplaces and net-zero carbon has gained traction over the last decade. Some of the largest companies in the world have made strategic commitments to fight the global climate crisis, with nearly 25% of Fortune 500 companies setting ambitious deadlines to become carbon neutral by 2045.

Sustainability programmes that were already in place before 2020 have provided a competitive advantage for food and beverage company AB InBev, according to the company’s Global Vice-President of Sustainability, Ezgi Barcenas. Having an employee-centric business model and ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) strategies established in the global supply chain has made the company more agile throughout the crisis.

Supply chain challenges

The pandemic presented many manufacturers with unforeseen challenges in supply chain sustainability, with consumers worldwide experiencing empty shelves at grocery stores and wasted goods due to supply chain inefficiencies.

Barry Parkin, Chief Procurement and Sustainability Officer at Mars Inc., said while speaking on a panel at the Bloomberg Green Festival, “The first few months of the crisis was about finding the weakest link in the supply chain — which is the essence of sustainability.” Around the globe, consumers have raised their standards for greener workplaces and more responsible business practices.

For instance, last year Majid Al Futtaim, a global real estate and retail company based in Dubai, reduced its water usage by 7%,  carbon emissions 4%, and increased recycling by 32% across all its malls. The group also generated three-million kilowatts in renewable energy at the Mall of Emirates.

“That’s just the beginning,” says Sophie Walker, UK Head of Sustainability at JLL, which helped the company hit these targets. “The pandemic has made them realize that becoming a leader in sustainability isn’t just good for the environment. It’s also good for their bottom line.”

The COVID-19 crisis is reinforcing the importance of having energy and sustainability at the forefront of the economic recovery that lies ahead.

“As we rebuild, we need to reshape the future in front of us,” says Richard Batten, JLL’s Global Chief Sustainability Officer, on a recent Building Places podcast. “We have the opportunity to reimagine new ways of working that will help us prepare for climate change and sustainability issues over the next 10 to 20 years.”

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