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The coronavirus has proven ESG to be an essential discipline

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Resilience and environmental, social and governance principles go hand in hand; Source: Shutterstock.

This article is sponsored by Rubicon.

The COVID-19 public health emergency has offered a window into the world a decade from now if we do not manage to make into a reality the Sustainable Development Goals, as put forth by the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In my last article for GreenBiz, I noted that even though sustainability has edged its way from the fringes of the corporate world into the boardroom, establishing itself as a core business strategy, many of the most important performance indicators (such as emissions, fugitive ocean plastics and water scarcity) are all pointing in the wrong direction.

The COVID-19 public health emergency has catapulted these issues, and the environmental, social and governance (ESG) pillars on which they stand, to the forefront of our collective thinking. 

Prior to COVID-19, the potential fallout from the upcoming climate crisis was too esoteric for many to grasp. Some organizations saw enacting sustainability best practices within their business as a "nice to have" rather than an essential element of their competitiveness, profitability and their future success. Despite report after report indicating that today’s consumers look to a business’s sustainability practices before making purchasing decisions, some organizations chose to look the other way in a misguided attempt to maximize revenue in the short term, without a thought to the long-term corporate health and, indeed, the long-term profitability of their organization.

Sustainability is the key to operational resilience

At Rubicon, our mission is to end waste, in all of its forms. The COVID-19 public health emergency has further indicated to us the underlying importance of this work given the need to address looming existential crises head on. As former Unilever CEO Paul Polman said in a GreenBiz interview recently, "Businesses cannot succeed in societies that fail." 

While COVID-19 has brought about some setbacks to recent gains toward the cause of sustainability and the circular economy, most notably the pause to some state and local laws banning the use of single-use plastic bags, as well as that of the proliferation of waste caused by single-use face masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE), it has highlighted why I believe sustainability and an organization’s operational resilience to be one and the same. Working to make an organization more sustainable, to create circular economics and to focus on ESG pillars will help to make your company more resilient to change in both the long and short term and more equipped to confront external factors that have real impact on business success.

Earlier this year, Rubicon released its 2019 ESG report. The report, which used data collected before the onset of the novel coronavirus in the United States, did not shy away from labeling waste as a "big problem" that needs to be solved. As Rubicon founder and CEO Nate Morris laid forth in the report’s CEO letter, we are "a nation that knows how to solve big problems" when we set our minds to it. "Waste is a big problem, and we should not wait for someone else to try to solve it. We should do the work, we should use innovation and free markets to drive transformation, and we should build a stronger, more resilient economy in the process."

Sustainable business is good business

The economic benefits of sustainability and the circular economy never have been more clear. According to the deVere Group, a leading independent financial advisory, ESG investments have come to be regarded as safe havens for 56 percent of investors. Similarly, research from the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) found that for the period from February through April, during the early stages of the COVID-19 public health emergency in the United States, investors "remain[ed] focused on sustainability during this major crisis suggest[ing] they view sustainability as a necessity rather than a luxury good."

When you focus on your organization’s triple bottom line — when you take the time to look toward social and environmental concerns alongside concerns centered around maximizing revenue — your business not only becomes a force for greater good in this world, it also is more likely to thrive in a competitive marketplace. In short, sustainable business is good business.

When I sit down (or in today’s world, have a video call) with fellow chief sustainability officers at Fortune 500 companies, I am heartened by how many of these individuals and the companies they represent understand the need for businesses such as theirs to move in this direction and to stay steadfast to their sustainability goals, ambitions and plans during the pandemic.

The economic benefits of the circular economy cannot be underestimated — both for the organizations that take the time to improve their resilience by investing in sustainable solutions across their business and for the world as a whole. I believe ESG is an essential part of our new, more resilient and sustainable economy, and as more organizations start to look toward leveling up their efforts in this area, even amid the current coronavirus and economic crisis, I am optimistic in America's building a stronger, more resilient economy in due course that leads the way toward a sustainable future.

A time for collective action 

Resilience and environmental, social and governance principles go hand in hand. If we can tackle COVID-19 together, we can take on global pollution, carbon emissions and landfill waste to live out Rubicon’s mission to end waste, in all of its forms.

Join us as we work with organizations and municipalities of all sizes to help turn businesses into more sustainable enterprises, and neighborhoods into greener and smarter places to live and work. We will emerge stronger from this pandemic, and with the help of our ESG pillars, we will make the circular economy a reality.

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