Sustainability In Times of Crisis

Updated: May 13, 2020

Accounting for the social and environmental impacts of our actions is challenging enough when it is 'business as usual' - let alone when we are in the midst of a global health pandemic like Covid-19. How do we engage meaningfully during the present crisis, while still working on those long-term challenges? And what can we learn from this crisis in terms of what sustainability really means to business?

A Global Crisis

The world is currently in uncharted territory, with large swathes under various forms of lock-down and social distancing in an effort to protect our oldest and most vulnerable members of society. Infection cases are now over 2.3 million globally. Workers in essential industries are overloaded, often with increased risk of exposure, and the rest of us are either working from home, or forced to sit tight until the risk of infection has reduced sufficiently. Schools are shut, and kids are learning from home. All of our normal routines have been disrupted. Non-essential businesses are under severe financial pressure, and many are reducing pay rates and furloughing staff. Those who live paycheck-to-paycheck are struggling to feed their families. The rapid response has been effective, but it is painful for so many.

Our economy in 2020 is truly global, and the crisis shows us exactly how interdependent we have become. Impacts in sourcing countries are leading to impacts in markets - not only for consumer products but across nearly all industries. Tourism has stopped. There is a lot of uncertainty for businesses to deal with, and potentially huge consequences. In this context, the natural impulse for many organisations' is to cut activities and investments that are considered 'non-essential'. And for those at risk of failure, the focus on short-term survival trumps longer-term considerations.

There Is Hope

But we are pulling together, and we are going to get through this. The global coordinated approach to tackle Covid-19 is unprecedented, and seems to be working. Prior to the crisis, this level of (mostly) proactive and coordinated effort was unimaginable. Our rising global consciousness and level of inter-connectivity is a lever which can drive so much positive impact. We have seen many businesses supporting affected communities with their time and resources, and others redirecting their design and manufacturing skills towards addressing the urgent medical needs. Once we are through the crisis, just imagine what could be achieved if we apply this level of engagement and action to address our greatest social and environmental challenges. There is hope, and we need to prepare for what comes next. Post-crisis, will we return to the same 'business as usual' or a new better way?

What We Can Learn?

Over the next few weeks, Connective Impact is releasing a series of articles on what we can learn about sustainability in times of crisis. Our social and economic systems are currently under intense pressure - and how they react to that pressure tells us a huge amount about how they work. The same goes for organisational efforts to integrate sustainability into strategy and practices - when the pressure is applied do they react in line with their strategy?

In our next article we'll look at how the crisis is highlighting just how critical the social side of sustainability is. We simply cannot expect those who are struggling to meet their basic (urgent) needs to be able to engage in solving our longer-term challenges. Reducing inequality, protecting human rights, and improving quality of life are social enablers that benefit all areas of sustainability. Sustainability is truly all about the people.

In the third article we'll take a look at how some businesses are enhancing their reputation during this time, while many are at risk of being caught short. The actions (or lack of) during these times will be remembered by customers and other stakeholders for far longer than the strategy and ambition communications made during more settled times. Those with sustainability 'baked-into' their overall business strategy are well placed to respond and to deliver meaningful action through their own operations and via their supply chain.

And in the final article, we'll focus on how the crisis has been impacting global supply chains, and whether they will ever be the same. After the crisis response has eased, and we collectively take a breath, we may well be heading towards a simplified, more resilient, and automated 'new normal'.

We help organisations to build capability and confidence, so they can go out and deliver the ethical and responsible impact that the world needs. If you'd like to learn more about how your organisation can benefit from taking an integrated approach to sustainability, get in touch with us at