- COVID-19 offers a chance to reset and reshape the world in a more sustainable way.
- It is up to every individual and corporation to take ownership of the future.
- Here are three steps business leaders can take to hasten this vital transition.
Much has been said about the opportunities to reset that COVID-19 affords us. We can reset specific industries (such as aviation, healthcare and energy); the way financial systems work; the way we tackle climate change; and even our chosen brand of capitalism. We can imagine another world, one in which we can sustain ourselves as envisioned in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and collectively prosper, if we start from the ground up with lessons from the pandemic.
At the most fundamental level, COVID-19 reveals three things:
1. Planet: Human activity is strongly related to climate change. The lockdown has resulted in rare sightings of blue skies from Beijing to Delhi, and worldwide CO2 emissions are predicted to fall by 8% in 2020.
2. People: COVID-19 has been hailed as the “big equalizer,” but the reality is that we aren’t equally resilient as a society. Socio-economic status is strongly related to vulnerabilities of all sorts, with the poor and underprivileged in harm’s way to a disproportionate extent.
3. Profit: We cannot survive for long without economic activity and the creation of financial value. Millions of businesses are failing in the face of the pandemic and as many as 40% of businesses may not reopen after this disaster.
In essence, we need to manage climate-related risks, strengthen our social fabric and inspire economic activity that creates value for humankind if we are to create a world that is sustainable and well-equipped to combat impending crises.
So what will it take to achieve this symbiosis between people, planet and profit – also referred to as the “triple bottom line” – in contrast to the single bottom line of profit alone? For starters, we must accept a basic truism: in a world of finite resources, maximizing private gain inevitably leads to collective loss – that is, the loss of common goods, a phenomenon known as the tragedy of the commons. For example if, in a bid to boost profits, global multinationals build and run factories but do not pay for the pollution they create, we get global warming. The collective is more important than the individual.