NEW year, renewed optimism. This was the perspective of most businesses toward the end of the 2021, with most expressing confidence that they could start embracing hybrid work arrangements for their workforces come 2022. The rosy outlook came at the heels of mass inoculation programs initiated by the government. In a Collier's report released in November last year, several employers stated that they were expecting a big chunk of their workforces to return to the office this year while others said they were set to adopt a mix of remote and on-site work setups.

But as things turned out, the start of 2022 in the Philippines was marred by news of a Covid-19 surge due to the Omicron variant, with the country logging record-high new cases and bringing the total number of infections close to 3 million. This has sparked worries among economists, who made estimates of losses businesses may incur as a result of the escalation of the alert level in Metro Manila.

Clearly, as companies start to tread with hope and caution at the start of the new year, emphasis must be given to sustainability and its far-reaching effects on businesses regardless of size and the industry where they specialize. Sustainability — as a corporate term — became a buzzword years earlier but with the pandemic and the recent surge in Covid-19 cases, its importance has never been more underscored.

It is worth noting that sustainability does not only cover initiatives that aim to "go green" and save the environment from catalysts such as climate change. It goes beyond that. The term is comprehensive and is enough to cover both goals to support environment-friendly programs and those that aim to ensure a better quality of life for all. It is closely linked with corporate governance and the concept of social responsibility. The former has something to do with ensuring public trust in management while the latter encourages stakeholder confidence. It is public and societal accountability that drives many companies to rev up sustainability, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental, social and governance initiatives for good reason.

We reap what we sow and when we speak of it in light of embracing sustainability, this means that businesses who invest in CSR programs are much more likely to reap advantages, like gaining the admiration of the public and inspiring other companies to follow suit. It can improve a brand's image and strengthen brand loyalty as more consumers now are more likely to patronize products from companies active in their CSR efforts.

In terms of profitability, businesses also benefit from engaging in sustainability programs. Going beyond the bottom line and shifting the focus to sustainability is more of a benefit than a disadvantage. In fact, integrating CSR initiatives in a corporation's investment plan have led to increase in money flows. All these, on top of making a mark in helping reduce environmental impacts and creating additional forays in the field of sustainability, make CSR investments more attractive.

Today, as we live in the new normal, we are currently at the cusp of a new era of sustainability. We have gone past the phase of enterprise integration where engaging in sustainability means mere integration of sustainable business practices. We are now engulfed in the next phase of corporate governance and social responsibility, where governments and businesses alike must be active in transforming the market to make it more sustainable through market transformation.

So, how do we go about in ramping up our sustainability programs to enter and enable what experts call this new phase of business sustainability?

Change outdated mindsets

Perception is everything. When working toward transforming the market into a more sustainable environment where corporations all contribute, the first step is to set aside preconceived notions about sustainability and the environment. Let go of the mindset that resources are limitless and that we can do little to stifle consumption.

Corporate leaders have an immense burden to discharge: inculcating a shift in workplace mindset that will trickle down to everyone composing the company. Their role is not to accept prevailing notions in the market with regard to sustainability but to challenge these and utilize new ways to promote sustainability that every employee will embody.

Harness the power of innovation

If there is one thing that we have learned from the pandemic, it is that businesses must continuously invest in technology and innovation. Sustainable innovation, or the ways by which businesses integrate sustainability into their products and services, has become more essential.

This sustainable innovation (or the lack thereof) is not just seen in products: it is evident in the little ways that companies manage the workplace. Think of the plastic cups in the pantry made available as part of "free coffee" programs. The solutions are simple but oftentimes overlooked.

Go beyond the usual through small acts

Making small steps is usually the start of something big. Investing in electric cars may be the way to go for big companies but reducing emissions and carbon footprints at work also does the trick. Engaging in CSR initiatives and integrating these in the overall business plan is another effective way to contribute to market transformation. Innovation, coupled with passion and commitment, usually paves the way toward bigger accomplishments in terms of sustainability.

As they say, new year, new possibilities. The new year may have brought with it another set of concerns but with a new perspective on corporate governance, corporate social responsibility and sustainability, nothing is impossible. In the end, a thriving business is one with both stellar corporate governance programs and sustainability goals for people within and outside the organization.


As published in The Manila Times, dated 12 January 2022