As the most wide-reaching public health crisis in history, COVID-19 has universally changed the way we live, especially regarding how we work, do business, and earn a living. Other than the physical risk of catching the virus at the workplace, the uncertainty of the pandemic has greatly impacted overall health. With the latest determination on managing safety changing by the hour (if not the minute), the pandemic has promoted quick thinking in leaders, with ramifications far-reaching and incredibly varied. Even within the same country, the crisis response initiatives have varied from city to city.
Sustainability & Resilience
The pandemic has affected every aspect of business operations, clarifying sustainability’s direct correlation to business resilience. Companies with sustainability and transparency strategies integrated prior to the pandemic have proven to be more resilient to recent unexpected events and non-ideal business conditions. These companies have adapted to changing circumstances by a greater understanding of safety risks due to their previously affixed focus on health, safety, and well-being. Only businesses with far-sighted sustainability strategies and planned risk-assessment practices have been able to thrive in the rapidly evolving atmosphere and the related uncertainty of the pandemic.
Health & Safety for Sustainable Development
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the general perception of “health,” reinforcing its direct link to sustainable development. One of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), SDG 3, ensures healthy lives and promotes well-being, regardless of age, race, gender, etc. Businesses making efforts to keep frontline workers and other employees safe during the pandemic are adhering to SDG 3 and directly contributing to sustainable development.
Historically, the perceived goal of HSE Departments was meeting minimum compliance through technical requirements, without regard to sustainability. However, the pandemic has revealed that HSE practices contribute to both human safety and sustainability. Companies that utilized HSE departments to promote continuous improvement over safety compliance have had more success in adapting to changing times. Through high-functioning HSE management, the overall well-being and safety of employees are put first, readily enacting safety policies as needed and creating incentives for COVID-19 vaccinations.
Partnerships to end the Pandemic
After 2 years of living under the influence of the pandemic, businesses recognize that success is measured by involvement. Organizations within companies that focus on human resources and operations are partnering externally with other companies and/or government agencies, creating greater resilience and sustainability. There is strength in numbers. The final SDG, SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals, emphasizes making implementation and global partnerships stronger for sustainable development. Businesses can play a large role in ending the COVID-19 crisis and building global resilience for humanity by assisting governments to meet immunization goals, through safety and sustainability prioritization. This in turn proves an excellent example of how collective action can reduce environmental impact and mitigate social problems.
Post-pandemic, businesses must re-evaluate their emphasis on building greater resilience and sustainability. A materiality analysis identifies what is material to business productivity and efficiency. The entire world will potentially operate very differently from pre-pandemic times and businesses will no longer “continue as usual”. By identifying what is material to businesses, stronger, more efficient organizations can be built, capable of handling rapidly changing business environments.
Conclusion Through following Track & Trace programs for employees, conducting regular assessments, and daily implementing risk-analysis, the role of global HSE departments has evolved beyond compliance and is more important than ever. The pandemic has proven that sustainability and HSE are linked in building business resilience and meeting goals for human safety on a universal scale. Greater investments into HSE with embedded sustainability strategies is a critical component to business operations as we transition to the post-pandemic world.
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Experienced in corporate sustainability in both developed and emerging markets, Fatima Fasih has over 5 years of experience in advising businesses on their sustainability strategies and reporting. She also assists businesses in identifying their progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Currently, working as an independent Sustainability Consultant, Fatima holds a Masters degree in Sustainability Management and Bachelors in Health Sciences and Environmental Science from the University of Toronto.
She is also certified a Greenhouse Gas Inventory Quantifier (GHG-IQ) and aims to work towards pushing businesses to play a larger role in solving the world’s biggest sustainable development problems: hunger, poverty, and inequality.