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Quarterly Issue 3 Special Report – A fair and sustainable recovery

A green recovery: business after COVID-19

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 15 Sep 2020

Choices made in the aftermath of COVID-19 will shape society for decades to come. So, being clear about the objectives of a green recovery is vital to ensure actions lead to desired outcomes. Here, Michael Holder looks at the business angle

Pre-pandemic, climate change had never been higher in the public consciousness, and corporate ambition in this area was growing steadily, characterised by increasing investments in renewable energy, efficiency, and electric vehicles.

Yet despite the public health and economic priorities thrown up in its wake, there are strong signs COVID-19 may in fact accelerate the trend, with the sudden shock exposing the fragility of entire business models and supply chains to unaccounted risk. 

The devastating impact of the current crisis offers a glimpse of the myriad risks posed by climate change and the net zero transition. Climate activists have long warned of plummeting oil prices and grounded planes, for example, yet that is now today’s reality. 

The incentive to combat these risks and urgently build greater resilience into an organisation could scarcely be stronger, and environmental sustainability offers a compelling solution. 

Aside from more obvious clean energy and transport efforts, such a solution might start with harnessing the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) guidelines to assess climate risk within an organisation, perhaps, or offering digital skills training to aid more flexible working practices. 

But such efforts are only the beginning of the journey, says Sharp. “It doesn’t really challenge the existing business model,” she explains. “Dependencies are where you start asking what your business model is dependent on to exist.”

Becoming a ‘B-Corp’ business is one way of managing that, argues Charmian Love, chair and co-founder of non-profit B-Lab UK. Securing the certification from B-Lab UK requires a company-wide audit against social, ethical and environmental considerations. Crucially, a company’s legal structure must be updated to explicitly state that directors have a duty to equally consider stakeholders and shareholders in their decisions.

“Businesses are increasingly attuned to their licence to operate, and our research shows 72% of the public believe businesses should have a legal responsibility to the planet and people alongside maximising profits,” Love explains. “To build back better, ethical and environmental considerations must become fundamental to business, profoundly changing what directors’ duties involve.”