Forging a responsible return to the “new normal”
Since the introduction of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, companies big and small have increasingly adopted them as key metrics to track progress across environmental, social and governance issues.
Some now see Covid-19 as a detonator for many of the SDGs, possibly causing a blockage toward achieving the global goals by 2030. Even before the pandemic, commentators highlighted the huge amounts of capital required to make headway on tackling them. Summoning this level of investment now seems unlikely, compounded by the fact that lots of companies are cutting back on innovations that would have helped progress the SDGs.
Others predict it will mean only some of the global goals will be prioritised post-Covid. This includes achieving universal health coverage, bolstering the health workforce and strengthening the capacity of early-warning systems for global health risks which all fall under Sustainable Development Goal 3.
Hope for the Sustainable Development Goals
However, we are starting to see greater willingness from companies to change old ways of working and pursue more responsible and sustainable practices to mitigate Covid-related disruption.
This includes John Lewis who are exploring ways to repurpose its retail space into mix-use affordable housing. While lockdown restrictions in the UK continue to ease, there is little sign that people are willing to return to the office and the high street. Many consumers are continuing to use safer and accessible online alternatives – for both work and shopping. These shifts in behaviour highlight how the high street is likely to sharply contract in the coming months. Transforming empty shops into homes is not only a realistic response to the impact of Covid-19, but also a responsible next step.
A recent report by the Social Market Foundation strongly endorses the repurposing of urban spaces and advocates for a nationwide program of transforming city and town centres through a rise in residential property. They say this has the potential to create 800,000 additional homes and will boost local employment, something which is desperately needed in the face of redundancies and scarce hiring due to the pandemic.
Forecasting the next ten years
With ten years to go until 2030, when the Sustainable Development Goals are intended to be achieved, we are at a tipping point. Companies need to decide whether the pandemic will act as a catalyst to build back better or an excuse to make shortcuts and go back to old ways of working. This does not just mean increasing the supply of affordable housing, which is SDG 11, but also achieving goals such as eradicating world hunger (SDG 2), curbing climate change (SDG 13) to eliminate disparities in race, health, wealth and education (SDG 10).
We have seen positive signs from companies embracing this new responsibility to the people and the planet and put long-term value creation at the centre of their business strategy. We launched Reinventing Responsibility to work alongside the firms that are looking to achieve just that.
Today, more is expected of businesses than ever. We are partnering with companies to help them understand, navigate, and seize control of the emerging multiple risks of our time – while helping to capitalise on the opportunities that are there for the taking. Together, we can work to forge a more sustainable world that can better support the people and planet in the face of future shocks.
Learn more about our Reinventing Responsibility offering here.