Is business too busy saving itself to save the environment?
The worldwide pandemic lockdowns have resulted in less pollution, cleaner skies and a drop in CO2 emissions, stirring hope that deeper climate change commitments will be made. Economic pressure, however, could lead companies to at least temporarily abandon sustainability commitments.
In an early May Wall Street Journal article entitled, “Sustainability Was Corporate America’s Buzzword. This Crisis Changes That,” columnist John D. Stoll wrote, “Today, every occupant of every C-suite is trying to figure out what they’re willing to throw overboard as the economic storm spawned by the pandemic is swamping their ships. Businesses that were planning to help save the world are now simply saving themselves.”
Research after the 2008 recession found an abrupt decline in public concern about climate change in the U.S. and Europe that was most likely driven by economic insecurity.
Some environmentalists find a pause, within limits, appropriate at this time to stabilize business. Emma Priestland, corporate campaign manager at Break Free From Plastic, told Adweek. “We’re looking at environmental performance over the long term. It isn’t about short-term initiatives that look nice and shiny in a press release.”
Most ambitiously, Boston Consulting Group, Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and Higg Co. in late April jointly issued a study — “Weaving a Better Future: Rebuilding a More Sustainable Fashion Industry After COVID-19” — urging fashion companies to double-down on social and environmental commitments, despite COVID-19-related strains on resources.
Rather than canceling orders, the report makes the case that collaborating with suppliers to reduce complexity and costs, elevating overall transparency, and demonstrating social responsibility will pay off with deeper trust from consumers and value chain partners alike.
“Early signals suggest that a global health crisis will increase overall consumer demand for products closely associated with trust, well-being, and the collective good — particularly in categories such as food and nutrition, but also in beauty and fashion, which are considered ‘close to the body’,” the study stated. “As consumers spend less money but more consciously, the expectation for sustainability, fair working conditions, and ethical action within supply chains will become absolute table stakes.”
- Sustainability Was Corporate America’s Buzzword. This Crisis Changes That – The Wall Street Journal
- Will Sustainability Remain a Corporate Priority After Covid-19? – Adweek
- New Report Shows COVID-19 Puts Sustainable Fashion At Crossroads (press release) – Sustainable Apparel Coalition/PRNewswire
- Rebuilding a More Sustainable Fashion Industry After COVID-19 (study) – Sustainable Apparel Coalition
- Coronavirus Will Force Fashion To A Sustainable Future – Forbes
- How a focus on sustainability will help the fashion industry emerge stronger from Covid-19 – Eco-Business
- Coronavirus Is Buying Time on Climate Change. Will We Make Use of It? – The Wall Street Journal
- Declining public concern about climate change: Can we blame the great recession? – Global Environmental Change
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Has it become more important for brands and retailers to stick to sustainability commitments, despite the coronavirus outbreak? Will COVID-19 and the recession be a positive, negative or neutral factor in the progress of corporate sustainability programs?