Pushing Sustainability Forward Through a Pandemic
Businesses have a responsibility to consider to environment--for the sake of the earth and consumers. That responsibility does not disappear during a pandemic, as climate change, resource scarcity, and many other challenges do not shelter in place along with us.
- By Ellen Jackowski
- May 27, 2020
COVID-19 demonstrates that people, communities and our planet are inextricably connected – risks to the health and wellbeing of one impacts the health and wellbeing of all. The pandemic is the most urgent of a series of global challenges, demanding collective action in the months and years ahead. As we respond to this ongoing pandemic, climate change, resource scarcity, inequality, and many other challenges are not pausing to shelter in place along with us, but continue to increasingly threaten humanity. Now is not the time to back away from addressing these issues to create sustainable impact and build a better future for all. We have to continue to find new ways to lead with purpose, and positively impact the planet, people and communities we serve.
Sustainability for Better Innovation
Well before the pandemic arrived, more and more businesses were waking up to the powerful opportunities between sustainability and innovation. The closer that product teams can collaborate with the sustainability team to launch products that customers are increasingly demanding, the better. In times of crisis, innovation becomes even more critical to help businesses prevail, and a focus on sustainability can ensure that this innovation is unleashed to serve the greater good, because innovation in and of itself is not inherently sustainable or deployed for the greater good.
In the printing and IT industry, HP has been a leader—particularly in the ways it has sought to include sustainability in nearly all its processes. In 1992, HP launched Design for Sustainability, a program that formalized how to build sustainability into the product and packaging design process. Since then, HP has made strides to reduce energy consumption of products, increase our use of recycled materials, and deliver products that help customers to live and work more sustainably.
HP did not stop there, though. More recently, through its innovative “impact sourcing” initiative, HP has kept more than 1 million pounds of plastics out of the ocean, instead upcycling them for use in HP products. Over the past year, HP launched the world’s first notebook, display, mobile workstation and enterprise laptop with ocean-bound plastics. And, today HP has 111 EPEAT-registered Gold products – more than any other company in the IT industry – and has the most sustainable PC portfolio on the planet.
A Sustainable Impact strategy like HP’s is not a “nice to do” – it is a business imperative. In fiscal year 2019, US$1.6 billion in new sales were influenced in some way by HP’s Sustainable Impact – a 69 percent increase from the previous year.
And HP is certainly not alone – according to New York University Stern’s Center for Sustainable Business, consumer packaged products that have a sustainability claim accounted for $114 billion in sales in 2018, up from 29 percent in 2013. Businesses should reject the false choice between doing well and doing good, because when you foster a purpose-driven culture, you create value for all stakeholders. And, the businesses that are best positioned to succeed in the current situation and grow in the future are those that embrace sustainability as an integrated core function.
The Rise of Digital Activism
The COVID-19 pandemic has, at least for now, changed many aspects of how we live and work. Social distancing guidelines are also affecting traditional community engagement. Greta Thunberg’s climate change movement, which drew over four million people to localized events just seven months ago, marched forward with #climatestrikeonline.
However, even though the world is in the midst of a pandemic, that does not mean activism for the environment should be put on hold. There are ways to innovate; for example, HP’s annual employee Global Shoreline Cleanup initiative, which last year collected over 21,000 pounds of trash, has moved to a digital engagement in order to protect our employees and their communities during the pandemic.
While the success of digital activism is hard to determine at this moment, it allows us to send an important message that our sustainability commitments and actions must carry on. Online activism will remain a powerful tool that raises awareness of climate change in the post-pandemic world where digital transformation will be accelerating.
Shaping a Better Future
While mass quarantining has caused disruption to personal and economic lives, we’ve also seen firsthand the positive impact that we can have on the environment if we are able to work together – there has been less smog in cities, cleaner waterways and oceans, and global GHG emissions have – at least for a moment – decreased. In fact, cities in America have recorded 15 to 30 percent reductions in carbon monoxide. When we are all able to emerge safely back into public life, it’s worth considering how we can maintain some of these gains.
On the contrary, plastic waste from the rising demand of masks, gloves and disposable utensils is surging as a result of COVID-19, and for good reason, as plastic is a critical material for safe healthcare delivery. Plastic production was already expected to increase by 40 percent over the next decade and Ocean Conservancy fears this pandemic could set back measures that aim to prevent 8 million metric tons of plastics from entering our oceans every year. COVID-19 is also contributing to a rise in online deliveries, which will inevitably lead to an increase in disposable packaging (Americans already discard 500 pounds of packaging per year). The pandemic is putting a spotlight on the need to use high-recyclability materials in both products and packaging to drive a circular economy.
Following a crisis of this magnitude, things won’t return to how they were before, and in many cases they should not. We have an opportunity to rebuild our businesses and society in a stronger, more sustainable way. Earlier this month, more than 155 companies signed the ‘Recover Better’ statement, which urges governments worldwide to align their COVID-19 economic aid and recovery efforts with the latest climate science. This statement has been convened by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and its Business Ambition for 1.5°C campaign partners, the UN Global Compact and the We Mean Business coalition. The SBTi, which is a collaboration between CDP, the UN Global Compact, World Resources Institute and WWF, independently assesses and validates corporate climate targets against the latest climate science. This type of public advocacy is an important part of our Sustainable Impact strategy and supports the systemic changes and policy action needed to help HP achieve its goals and commitments as we continue to protect our people, communities and the planet.
COVID-19 has exposed some critical weaknesses in our current system. It has caused us to adapt to a new normal and engage with our families, our communities and our employees differently. It has shown the vital importance of a coordinated, intersectional approach. Finally, it provides an opportunity to rethink our future – build one that is stronger, more resilient and sustainable. And if we take urgent actions now, not only will our businesses be stronger, our world will be as well.