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Sustainability

COVID-19’s impact on the sustainability agenda

Building the post-coronavirus future. What comes after coronavirus? How will COVID-19 change business, our economies and wider society?

Coronavirus has already changed the world. Unprecedented measures have been implemented with speed that would have hitherto been thought impossible. Transformational change suddenly seems possible, potentially putting new momentum behind calls to move away from high-carbon assets, and unethical and unsustainable practices.

Defining value

Amid the human tragedy of coronavirus, the environment has benefited from the lack of economic activity. Until very recently, climate change was seen as the single greatest threat we faced. Now, as the world considers how to reboot economies stalled by COVID-19, an opportunity exists to accelerate the transition to a more sustainable future.

Coronavirus could eventually change how we generate energy, produce goods, source raw materials and manage supply chains. On a social level the pandemic has strengthened communities, while the critical roles played by relatively underpaid workers (including care workers and teachers) in responding to COVID-19 – and the vulnerability of gig-economy workers – raises questions over how we define value.

The sharing economy has taken on a whole new meaning as companies offer products and services for free, and people donate time instead of money. Could this mindset be harnessed to influence economic activity and change business models?

Reshaping the economy

Widespread homeworking could fundamentally change how – and where – we recruit, work and interact with each other.

Over the longer term, the coronavirus could reshape the nature of capitalism. The crisis has highlighted how all economies need core services to function properly. A world that values profit over purpose risks undermining both those services and the people that deliver them.

More people now see the need for an economy that provides meaningful work, high levels of wellbeing and equality of opportunity, while delivering low-carbon, zero waste and environmental restoration. Coronavirus may be the threshold of a fundamental, systemic change to our economic paradigm. Adaptability and resilience will become primary competitive advantages.

Over the coming weeks we will explore the impact of coronavirus on sustainability, from four different perspectives: The environment, society, the way we work and our economy.

Our work on sustainability helps us understand how businesses should now be preparing for a post-coronavirus world.

Beyond the pandemic

Get in touch

If you would like to discuss these issues in more detail, please speak to your usual Freshfields contact or one of the lawyers listed below who can direct your query.