The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the hard reality home of how destroying forests and coming in close contact with wildlife can wreck havoc on humans. The threat from the obscure word Zoonosis, diseases that spread from animals to humans, has now transformed the way the entire world lives.
Degradation and abuse of environment is one of the primary reason for pandemic, said Bhavna Prasad, Director of Sustainable Business at WWF-India.
Prasad pointed out that the current consumption pattern uses natural resources at a pace that is 1.6 times faster than the pace at which Earth can regenerate its resources. Currently, 80% of the Earth's original forests have already been destroyed. 90 per cent of the planet's biodiversity has been lost in the last seven decades. Scientists have already warned that a sixth mass extinction in Earth's history is underway. It will also be the first that will be accelerated by humans.
"In order to build back from the COVID 19 crisis, it will be important to reassess our actions and tackle collectively the multiple threats to the environment to prevent putting human wellbeing and livelihood at risks in the future," said Prasad.
Therefore, it has become important to re-look and re-think at the models of consumption and economic development. Every business today is talking about 'purpose' where they create value for all stakeholders, and not just shareholders.
Rijit Sengupta, CEO, Centre for Responsible Business (CRB) said that COVID 19 has resulted in severe socio-economic distress and has put forth the need on "doing business" which puts business resilience as well as societal resilience at the core. It is no more a question about one or the other.
India representative Kamal Prakash Seth for not-for profit Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) says that awareness is key. He emphasises on the need to make aware the producers and consumers of the issues related to sustainability and sustainable development.This will in turn impact sustainable livelihoods and help in poverty reduction. For instance, almost 50 per cent of the products we consume including packaged food items like chips, chocolates, biscuits and cosmetics contain palm oil. While these products don't impose a direct health risk but production of palm oil leads to forest loss, animal loss. This in turn results in air pollution, habitats loss and loss of livelihood for forest communities.
Sustainable behaviour can also be driven by financial institutions where they can take ESG considerations into account in their lending and investment decisions. They can then drive sustainable practices through their portfolio companies. Arindom Datta, Executive Director, rural & development banking/advisory of Netherlands-based lender Rabobank says that sustainability measures have to be built in the firm's mission and vision. They can't be an afterthought. For that, it is crucial to have drivers like regulations, stakeholders that want the institutes to be sustainable, ways to mitigate sustainability risks and business opportunities in sustainability to encourage the firms which take the sustainability route.
Archana Datta, Project Coordinator for Switch-Asia Regional Policy Advocacy Coordination (RPAC) at United Nations Environment Programme says there is a need to challenge the existing notions of economic growth that harp on take-make-dispose patterns of development. "In the post crises scenario the endeavour should be to create better opportunities for green investments while adhering to the standards of sustainable production and consumption," she said.
The speakers were speaking at the webinar Businesses with Purpose: Future-Proofing Businesses in a Post -COVID 19 World organised by CRB, RSPO and WWF- India.