Capital Markets Corporate

June 17, 2020

Building back better

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It is apparent that three months on from the first signs of lockdown, the most severe global pandemic in over a century has provided us with the blueprint to shape a fairer, greener society.

At the start of March, you would have likely scolded someone for suggesting something so absurd. But COVID-19 has shone a spotlight onto the ills and injustices of society and a movement is gathering to ensure that as we emerge from lockdown, these wrongs are put right.

The corporate world has much to offer in this spirit. Paul Polman, the former chief executive of Unilever, recently stated that, “building back better is the key task now.”

While there are those who believe that environmental, social and governance issues will take a back seat during the economic recovery, there are plenty of others who believe that these issues should be front and centre.

Taking centre stage

In fact, these issues have been front and centre of the crisis itself.

The complete shutdown of aviation, public transport, and a reduction in the usage of motor vehicles has seen energy demand fall of a cliff. The International Energy Agency (IEA) stated that the world will use 6% less energy this year – which will feed through to a significant decline in greenhouse gas emissions.

At the start of lockdown, key workers were identified, and we started to ask ourselves whether delivery drivers and cleaners were being adequately protected from the virus. Amazon has come under repeated scrutiny for failing to protect workers from the virus and implicitly encouraging them to continue working as normal.

Stakeholder capitalism has grown in importance too and perhaps for the first time, companies are seriously considering how they impact all their stakeholders, not just their shareholders.

Like any crisis, the current pandemic has forced companies to comply with good governance. The Confederation of British Industry published a factsheet outlining the principles of good corporate governance during crises. Unsurprisingly, it focuses on the theme of responsibility – businesses must ensure that they have enough working capital and continue to meet their statuary obligations.

We have reached a tipping point and there is no going back. It will become a moral imperative for governments across the world to ‘build back better’.

Reinventing responsibility

At Instinctif Partners, we understand this and last week we launched Reinventing Responsibility – our new integrated offering to help clients shape and communicate sustainable business strategies.

The corporate world will play its part in the rebuild and companies must be prepared to act. Their actions will need to be communicated to a wide range of stakeholders, and from the very beginning, communications should be rooted in business strategy.

Failing to communicate clearly or landing mixed messages can spell disaster for an organisation’s reputation.

Transparency is key – if you talk the talk, without walking the walk, you will quickly be found out. Tone is just as crucial – change is unsettling and misjudging the tone can draw unwanted attention.

Talk is cheap. But companies who are able to communicate the steps and actions they are taking to ‘build back better’ will ultimately benefit from a reputational boost.

 

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