A clear-eyed view of the deeply disrupted decade ahead

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14 May, 2020


Insights from the CEO



Peter Bakker

What does the COVID-19 pandemic mean for the decade ahead? What vulnerabilities has it exposed? What trends is it accelerating? And what must business address as it builds back better from this crisis?

Predicting the future in any detail is hard at the best of times, but in the middle of a pandemic, it actually might become easier – even though volatility has increased dramatically, our focus and options have necessarily narrowed. Existing vulnerabilities have been tangibly and tragically exposed – here in Geneva in Switzerland, one of the richest corners of the world, we have seen thousands queuing for hours each week to receive emergency basic supplies. Full or partial lockdown measures were affecting almost 2.7 billion workers in early April – four in five of the world’s workforce. And we are yet to see how poorer parts of the world will cope with the wild spread of COVID-19. We know that our future will be dominated by first managing the pandemic and then recovering from the destruction it has caused.

All around the world, the virus is revealing the fragility of human life, our public health systems, supply chains, economies, international institutions and alliances. Business cannot be successful without these things being in place: it requires healthy (and educated) employees and customers; it needs all corners of economies and supply chains to be efficient and resilient; it requires a level and open global playing field. If we are to truly recover from COVID-19, then it will not be about putting things back together to how they were – we need to build back better and address these deep systemic vulnerabilities that have been allowed to develop over the last decades.

So what are the main challenges ahead and how will business navigate them?

Our Vision 2050 Refresh team has been working to understand the underlying forces shaping the next ten years, how these are likely to interact with one another, and how COVID-19 is changing the picture. Last week we released two interim Vision 2050 Refresh outputs in support of our COVID-19 Response Program. Created in partnership with Volans and WBCSD members, we are pleased to share these Vision 2050 issue briefs: Macrotrends & Disruptions shaping 2020-2030 and The consequences of COVID-19 for the decade ahead . Understanding the existing trends, challenges and opportunities being exposed, influenced, and accelerated by the pandemic is critical to the development of recovery strategies in line with our Vision of 9+ billion people, living well, within planetary boundaries.

How business responds to COVID-19 will undoubtedly shape the decade to come. These issue briefs provide a basis for constructive conversations about what needs to be done and the environment we are going to be doing it in. I consider them a must-read for all business leaders.

At WBCSD, we will leverage this thorough work going forward, most notably by using it as the foundation for a CEO Guide to Building Back Better that will be published in the coming months.

Further support for business navigating the crisis

As part of our COVID-19 Response Program, we are focusing on identifying risks and vulnerabilities within the Vital Supply Chains Resilience – Food System Security project to develop a narrative on immediate and long-term food system change required in response to COVID-19. Moreover, Return to New Normal scenarios are being developed for Business Recovery and Employee Health. To support solutions to these challenges, we are hosting a series of webinars with Baker McKenzie. More info on the webinars and the details of the Response Program projects is available here.

Moreover, we expanded our analysis of WBCSD member performance and have seen sustainable companies continuing to outperform the broader market during this crisis. This analysis, and the very insightful conversations we had with our members this week, increases our confidence in going ahead with our plans to accelerate changes in our WBCSD membership criteria. Following the helpful feedback from members, we will now work on refining the proposed changes so we are ready to put the additional criteria forward for WBCSD’s ExCo for their recommendation to the October AGM.

As parts of the world start opening up, we aren’t out of woods yet: the COVID-19 crisis is to stay with us for the foreseeable future. Continued collective business leadership is vital to stay the course to use this year to make the 2020s the decade of positive and lasting change.