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The coronavirus pandemic has created significant new ways of doing business that could benefit both the economy and environment, according to business leaders, who said there was no other option but to shift toward sustainability.


In June, Brazilian cosmetics giant Natura launched its “Commitment to Life” vision for the next 10 years. The plan includes pledges to reduce its emissions to net zero, have 30% of its management made up of under-represented groups, and make all of its packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable. Unilever announced a $1 billion investment into a climate and nature fund and pledged net-zero emissions across all of its products by 2039.


"(This) is even more relevant because of the time we are in and the importance of really thinking about how we want to shape the world coming out of this crisis," Natura CEO Roberto Marques told CNBC by phone. Natura owns British brand The Body Shop, Australian skincare company Aesop, and in January closed a deal to buy American business Avon, creating a group that it claims has 200 million customers.


For Natura, financial growth and sustainability go hand-in-hand, and executives’ remuneration has been partly based on green goals, Marques said.


remuneration [rɪˌmjuːnəˈreɪʃn]: n. 报酬;酬劳,赔偿

As with other manufacturers, it’s in Natura’s interest to focus on sustainability in an effort to ensure, for instance, that raw materials are available in the long term. “We can’t run a business in a dead planet … There is no other option for companies and leaders,” Marques added.


For Richard Mattison, CEO of Trucost, a company owned by S&P Global that estimates climate risks to businesses, the pandemic has created opportunities that are good for the economy and the planet.


Mattison suggested there were three things companies can do: cut business travel, instigate a work-from-home policy and make supply chains more local.


For Helen Clarkson, CEO of nonprofit The Climate Group, post-pandemic spending is a critical opportunity to invest in ways to get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions. After the 2008-2009 recession, sustainability issues tended to be ignored, she told CNBC by phone.


But now, things are different, in part due to pressure from younger generations and also because businesses are having to reimagine themselves, Clarkson added.


Compare Ethics is a site that lets shoppers compare clothing brands’ commitment to issues such as paying a living wage or using recycled materials. It was founded by young entrepreneurs James Omisakin and Abbie Morris, who said the pandemic has meant that consumers have paid more attention to supply chains.


"Consumers and employees are now acutely aware of how their lives can change overnight and how supply chains directly affect them,” Morris told CNBC by email. She added that sales of clothing via the Compare Ethics platform were up 150% in June compared to May.


Omisakin is hopeful that the business world will continue to think about green issues. "There's no choice now but to place the planet first. Senior leaders know that without synergy, nature will ultimately disrupt and disarm business efforts," he told CNBC by email.



Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash