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Building long term business resilience: Learning lessons from COVID-19

Published: 7 Sep 2020
Type: News

Geneva, 7 September 2020: The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has released an issue brief exploring early business responses to COVID-19, making recommendations on how companies can build greater long-term resilience through improved approaches to corporate risk management, human & social capital, and environmental, social and governance (ESG) information.

This issue brief explores how companies can improve their long-term thinking and planning and better prepare for future events and disruptions by:

  • Exploring the key attributes of resilient organizations and systems
  • Distilling emerging lessons from private sector responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and other disruptions
  • Providing recommendations on how companies can increase long-term resilience based on their experience of the COVID-19 pandemic and other systemic shocks.

The analysis and recommendations are based on insights gathered via WBCSD member discussions and a series of interviews with companies headquartered in Asia, Europe and the Americas. It also incorporates insights on the impact of COVID-19 from the 2020 GlobeScan / SustainAbility Leaders Survey and further draws on a broader review of business responses to COVID-19 and long-term resilience. 

The issue brief, developed in partnership with the ERM SustainAbility Institute, is part of a series of interim outputs linked to WBCSD’s current refresh of its Vision 2050, a landmark 2010 report that laid out a pathway to a world in which nine billion people are able to live well, within planetary boundaries, by mid-century. WBCSD is working together with 40 of its member companies to update this work and again provide business with a common agenda for action over the decade to come.

Peter Bakker, President and CEO of WBCSD, commented: “We need to do a better job preparing for both known and unknown threats, in part by returning some “slack to our economic, social, and natural systems. To better prepare for future shocks, businesses must change and extend their view of long-term resilience. Critically, they must accept that a company’s resilience is not limited to what’s inside its four walls, but also encompasses ecosystems, communities, economies, the rule of law, effective governance and governments, and more. This recognition is necessary if business leaders are to be able to support the scale of the systems transformations that Vision 2050 clearly requires.

According to Keryn James, CEO, ERM and member of WBCSD’s Executive Committee: COVID-19 is the most significant public health crisis in a century and the cause of the deepest economic downturn of the modern era. The pandemic is revealing vulnerabilities in public health systems and social safety nets worldwide, bringing inequalities to the surface and demonstrating how major disruptions can snowball through interconnected systems. It is forcing recognition that our societies and economies are not nearly as resilient as we had believed. Resilience needs to be more deeply embedded in business language and especially in practice to ensure it does not atrophy. Applied and honed, better long-term resilience will result in businesses that are able to anticipate and prepare for all future scenarios, minimize the impact of the shocks that do hit and recover more quickly from them.

The Vision 2050 project will be releasing further issue briefs in the coming months to help companies navigate the challenges of responding to the socio-economic turmoil unleashed by COVID-19, whilst maintaining (and increasing) ambition on sustainable development goals. Among the resources that have already been produced are an analysis of Macrotrends & Disruptions shaping 2020-2030, a report looking at the consequences of COVID-19 for the decade ahead, in addition to insights into how systems transform and innovations that could shape and transform the next decade. Another issue brief will be released later this month, reflecting on how capitalism can and should change to enable a sustainable, inclusive future.

Download the Issue Brief 

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