In 2019, we experienced that an entire generation had been mobilised in order to go out on the streets to fight for their future opportunities. In the “Fridays for Future” movement, the young generation raised its voice and, in an impressive fashion, demanded that the older generation no longer merely pay lip service to sustainability. In this context, it certainly entails fairness between the generations, but also being responsible in our actions. One year later, this movement has disappeared from our consciousness. But not because the theme has lost its significance, but rather because a virus has placed our lives upside-down. In many industries, everything has collapsed and many people have not only suffered health-wise as the result of this pandemic, but rather also felt the economic consequences (and still suffer even today from them). It is high time that we must completely realign our companies and also critically scrutinise our economic system. The crisis has made the mistakes of the past transparent to us. Mistakes which the “Fridays for Future” movement also loudly criticised, but which we were not willing to satisfactorily listen to – let alone change our actions. Corona is now compelling us to implement a restart and we could also simultaneously utilise it for a sustainable restart.
But what does sustainability actually mean? Sustainability (sustainable development) is an action principle, according to which we are supposed to no longer consume more than we can once again regrow or regenerate. Future generations are not supposed to be restricted as the result of our actions. The term means in its original literal sense: “longer time period of lasting effect” and we are supposed to understand this in three dimensions: (1) from an economic perspective whereby we set up a financial structure which understands crises and places the focus on long-term action, (2) from a human perspective whereby we regard employees not merely as short-term resources, but rather assign their loyalty to the company more importance in the interest of both the company and its employees and (3) naturally also from an ecological perspective because we have a responsibility to the generations which follow our generation. In addition, we must also learn to understand that all these aspects are interrelated. Employees have an increasing interest in working for a company which makes a positive contribution to our society and is built on stable finances. Sustainability also means stability in a dynamic environment – and that is today more than ever a critical competitive advantage.
Since the ratification of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2016 by the UN – also referred to in shortened form as: SDGs, the following has unconditionally applied: The theme of a “Sustainable Future” is “everybody’s business” – the citizens, government institutions and particularly also companies. In this context, sustainability has also become a regulatory requirement. The Act regarding the Implementation of the EU CSR Directive (Corporate Social Responsibility) requires that global supply chains be designed in a more sustainable manner. However, in this context, I would even go a step farther. During the restart after Corona, we should increasingly scrutinise the issue of the value of regionality. What are our critical supply chains and which, based upon a risk assessment, should be dependent only on local and regional suppliers? Where do the economic and ecological advantages of global supply chains lie? What is the role of our human capital, our employees for sustainable business success? Many ecological measures in the sustainable economy also coincide quite directly with economic benefit – oftentimes as the result of gains in efficiency. Overall, business activities which are more sustainable will always result in more resiliency at all levels of the business which is naturally extremely advantageous for a company.
Even if this insight hasn’t asserted itself everywhere: Sustainability is an essential issue for Supervisory Boards, Management Boards, management personnel and employees. It must become a part of the company’s strategy and be systematically measured and assessed. We now no longer have time for paying mere lip service and catchy marketing slogans. During the time after Corona, only those companies will have a long-term competitive advantage which comprehensively understand sustainability and now realign their structures accordingly. It is high time that words are also followed by actions.
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