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COVID-19: A Sustainability Wake-Up Call


The past couple of months of COVID-19 lockdowns and necessary social restrictions has taught us many things: that we can be productive and effective without travelling to the workplace, that there is immense pleasure in the simplicity of life, and that there is also a fragility to our world that is perhaps unexpected.

For the sustainability agenda, this may be the wake-up call needed to get the attention required for future change.

From a corporate perspective, many organisations are in survival mode where the pandemic and resulting economic crisis has resulted in a focus on short-term viability and this may mean that for the time being at least environmental and sustainability goals are off the table or at least pushed into the “not urgent” category.

To dig a little deeper into the potential impact the pandemic may have on the sustainability movement and how it impacts individuals, government policy and corporations, we spoke with Andy Hill, Lawcadia’s Chairman and passionate sustainability advocate.

When asked about how the current crisis will impact the way that government, corporates and individuals relate to sustainability, Andy reveals that it could go one of two ways: backwards or forwards.

Looking in the rear-view mirror

During the global financial crisis Andy was co-founder and CEO of successful supply-chain analytics company, Oniqua.

“Looking back to 2008 and the GFC at that time we were starting to think about sustainability analytics and sustainability reporting,” he reflects.

“Then sadly the GFC came along and straight away it seemed like the corporate mindset is now about cost, and sustainability was seen as something that perhaps they couldn’t afford to invest in.”

That was over 10 years ago and, according to Andy, the sustainability agenda was set backwards.

In contrast, the COVID-19 crisis has a notable difference: the GFC was largely an economic crisis and this current crisis is much more personal, and for the sustainability movement, that difference might be crucial.

The wake-up call

“COVID-19 has had such a personal impact, on individuals, on families. It’s forced us all to reflect and think about what’s important to us and money isn’t necessarily the biggest thing”, Andy says.

“I think we’re understanding that relationships are important as well as how we function as a society and our impact on the planet. I hope that this forced isolation has given us a little bit of time to reflect on that.”

Andy considers the current crisis as the turning point with the next 10 years delivering some significant changes and initiatives.

“When we come out the other side [of the pandemic], we might look back on this as being the moment that the sustainability agenda changed and our collective mindset said, we need a new future.”

“From a sustainability point of view, I feel very positive and optimistic that the solutions that the world needs already exist. We just need to adopt them.

“We may look back on what has been a really tragic event, but we might see it as actually the wake-up call that we all needed.”

Leaders, be bold

Andy’s advice to leaders right now is to be bold, try radical change.

“What the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us is that there are actually really big risks in business-as-usual,” says Andy.

“Disruptive change is something that’s coming to us in a ever rapid pace and going forward leaders need to lead and not follow.

“I think perhaps the risks of following will be much greater than the risks of leading.”

Whilst COVID-19 restrictions start to ease, now is the time to consider how we as individuals can have a different relationship with the environment and encourage our governments and corporations to keep sustainability goals on their agendas.

View the full video interview with Andy Hill here, and check out our related article on Entrepreneurship and Reimagining the Future.

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