July 7, 2020
While COVID-19 has transformed our world almost instantaneously in recent months, another transformation, albeit a slower, steadier one has been gaining momentum. Prior to COVID-19 the world was already on the brink of major consumer change. According to Eric Whan, Director at GlobeScan, an insights and strategy consultancy, the pre-COVID-19 global outlook seriously emphasized the role of sustainability in business and civil society.
Trust between people and their national governments, the media, and global companies slipped, while trust in NGOs, academic institutions, and the scientific community surged. On a global scale, the majority of people were considerably worried about escalating environmental challenges including air pollution, freshwater shortage, climate change, and the depletion of natural resources than in previous years as concern over single-use plastic pollution ballooned.
However, despite reservations, consumers actively demanded corporation regulation. Pre COVID-19 the growing pressure from civil society was on governments to implement environmental regulation. With a post-COVID-19 world, will this continue?
Sixty-three percent of people surveyed strongly or somewhat agreed that governments should create laws that require large companies to go beyond their traditional economic role and work towards a better society. This suggests people are inclined to believe companies will not self-regulate and governments should design legislation requiring positive contributions to the environment and civil society. COVID-19 poses a few questions to companies about how they can surpass their traditional economic roles; will companies take sustainability in stride and continue the trend or will they keep their narrow focus? Economic equity, social responsibility, and a healthy environment seem inextricably linked to issues of a global pandemic.
Alongside a demand for corporate regulation, consumers challenged brands to go beyond their purpose. Sixty-seven percent of people surveyed say their brand loyalty is motivated either by a great deal or a fair amount by brands’ positive environmental impact. Generationally, seventy-five percent of Gen Z and fifty-six percent of Baby Boomers agree, indicating the sentiment is shared beyond the younger generations. To maintain relevance, brands must dedicate genuine and forthright endeavors to positively impact our collective global society, like aligning corporate social responsibility efforts with those of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
With environmental challenges at the forefront of consumers’ concerns and levels of trust in academic/ scientific communities elevated, the stakeholder ecosystem of business is shifting. Consumers’ loyalty and desire for brands to do good is at an all time high. The sustainability function of business is not just trending, but expected of global companies.
All of this to say, June 2020 brings unique circumstances to the forefront. How has COVID19 impacted businesses and their sustainability function? Context is key ; fifty-six percent of sustainability departments at consumer products and retailers are expressing significant or very significant impacts. However, only forty-one percent of all other sectors combined report a significant or very significant impact. When asked what the most important role of the sustainability function during this time, the majority of respondents stated community engagement. The relationship building proclivity of sustainability has meant more teams play communication, community building, and advising roles. In addition to engaging the community, sustainability function and health & safety have a natural fit during this global pandemic.
Pre COVID-19, sustainability was a dominant force on civil society and business. While, COVID-19 is technically a global health crisis, it would be irresponsible to ignore how sustainability efforts easily coalesce with efforts to improve the health and well-being of global citizens. To conclude, the biggest interpretation is this: sustainability has staying power. Demand from consumers is omnipresent. Increasing worry about environmental challenges and declining confidence in corporations instills the world is ripe for change. Overall, Globescan’s data demonstrates the ultimate importance of sustainability on business, civil society, and the world ahead of us, especially in the context of a global pandemic.