It’s hard to believe that little more than one year ago, the world had never heard of COVID-19. In the ensuing year, the resulting pandemic has driven significant loss of life, radically upended normal circumstances in nearly every country, devastated industries and exposed critical vulnerabilities, and caused the crash of a relatively stable and prosperous global economy. The reverberations of the virus and the havoc that it has wreaked are likely to echo for years, if not decades, to come.
As vaccination programs roll out and the world starts, cautiously, to return to some semblance of normalcy, companies find themselves at an inflection point: go back to the way things were or use the lessons learned from the virus to redefine a new normal?
As a leader in energy and sustainability ourselves, and as a trusted advisor to thousands of companies, we, along with dozens of NGOs and governments worldwide, believe there must be a new Business-as-Usual. Life and work post-COVID-19 will look different and be different, with new demands and expectations alongside new requirements for flexibility, agility, responsibility, empathy, transparency, and purpose. We call this resilient recovery.
But we know that the call for resilient recovery brings many questions for organizations. How can we reinvent ourselves? How can we grow sustainably? How can we build nimbleness into our operation? What is the right business model for long-term success?
Right now, cost-effective solutions and practices exist that help industry move towards greater plasticity and strength. We know now that the world can pivot quickly when called to respond to a crisis. The same urgency that saw us through the worst of the pandemic can be harnessed and applied to other challenges (climate change, for example) through the pursuit of three key recovery pillars:
- Business continuity & resilience
- Deep decarbonization
- Innovative & digitized growth
Business Continuity & Resilience
At the onset of the pandemic, we learned that the impact of a business-disrupting event can happen much faster than we expect, and that that impact can be more damaging than we anticipate. Through COVID-19, we’ve seen that human, business, and economic systems are all susceptible to failure, and that we ignore these vulnerabilities at our peril.
As a few of many examples:
- By the first week of April 2020, 3.9 billion people worldwide were under some form of lockdown— more than half of the world's population.
- In the United States, the price of a barrel of oil turned negative for the first time in history.
- Aviation markets were shocked by a 70% decrease in passengers globally; passenger aviation is expected to lose roughly USD$314 billion this year.
Moving forward, it will be critical for companies to assess their gaps and take steps to systematically address them to protect business against future disruption. This goes far beyond securing operations and protecting sites; it’s about a substantial shift in strategy that anticipates vulnerability and unpredictability. This will, in turn, drive greater flexibility and resiliency in organizations, leaving them more adaptable and capable, regardless of the circumstances.
We’ve also learned how definitively we can act when something precious, like human life, is on the line. In a matter of weeks, every nation had swiftly responded to the pandemic, coming together for the common good.
The pandemic “pause” gives companies an opportunity to radically embrace and pursue solutions to overcome other global crises, chief among these the climate emergency. Many initiatives to this end are already underway:
- 155 companies — with a combined market capitalization of over US$ 2.4 trillion and representing over 5 million employees — have signed a statement from the Science Based Targets initiative urging governments around the world to align their COVID-19 economic aid and recovery efforts with the latest climate science.
- Ministers from 11 countries, 79 cross-party MEPs from 17 Member States, 37 CEOs, 28 business associations and other initiatives have launched the European Alliance for Green Recovery committing to tackle climate change and economic recovery simultaneously. To date, €200 billion has been committed to low-carbon infrastructure.
- IIGC, AIGCC, Ceres, and CDP, among major green investment backed by trillions of dollars of assets, launched an open letter urging governments to avoid backing risky, high-carbon projects as part of their coronavirus recovery plans.
Whether inspired by the clear skies of every major urban area during the height of quarantine, emboldened by the finding that clean energy could give pandemic recovery a US$100 trillion boost, or facing economic stimulus tied to green recovery regulation, now is the time to double-down on commitments to decarbonization and a clean and efficient energy future.
Innovative & Digitized Growth
Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted global perspectives on how we live and work—with the disruptive power to change everything from what and how we consume to where and how we connect. Innovation, digitization, and purpose have proven more essential than ever in uncertain times. Companies with a commitment to their employees, customers, and communities have sought creative solutions in the midst of crisis, turning challenge into opportunity, and outperforming their peers.
A few extraordinary examples:
- Zoom Video Communications CEO Eric Yuan stated in early April that the platform had seen an increase in daily meeting participants from 10 million in late December 2019 to over 200 million in March 2020.
- 65% of British employees were working remotely during the lockdown. Almost half (47%) had never worked remotely before the COVID-19 crisis, and 77% feel they have done well handling the remote work.
- Estimates predict that 25-30% of the global workforce will be working at home on a multiple-days-a-week basis by the end of 2021, and many other business practices such as business travel will not go back to pre-COVID-19 levels.
But gaps in our ingenuity have also been exposed. We’ve realized that not every person, or business, has the digital tools that they need to succeed. We’ve seen that our economy is still fundamentally dependent on the take-make-waste model of goods for growth. We’ve experienced that too many of our critical systems remain dependent on fragile processes.
Our successful recovery from COVID-19 will challenge our creativity and resolve, yet there is no more critical time to bring our best thinking and resources to bear to reimagine how we can do business.
Our Commitment to You
We face many challenges in the coming months and years. There is enormous imperative for us to move quickly to reinvigorate the global economy. And, it would be a significant loss for us not to use the lessons we’ve learned from the pandemic to build back better, and with greater resilience than before.
For the remainder of 2020, we’re committing our thought leadership to resilient recovery. We’ll be developing inspiring, practical, and cost-conscious energy and sustainability guidance focused on reimagining business models and improving continuity. Our goal is to help you build a responsive, flexible, and purpose-driven business that can leverage COVID-19 to prepare your organization for future disruption.