Pandemic lessons for a sustainable business recovery

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Learn from lockdown and use sustainability to aid recovery

How can you help your business in a post-pandemic economy and use sustainability to support your continuity planning for business resilience?

Companies may need to re-evaluate, restructure and diversify to safeguard their future in a post-COVID recovery – both to ensure they can meet new customer requirements and also to respond to emerging trends in a post-pandemic economy.

Of course, every organisation will have its own individual journey to economic recovery depending on how deeply its operations were impacted by the global pandemic, the level of support it was able to access and the amount of time we spend under lockdown restrictions.

But perhaps two factors that can help recovery are common to all organisations – the learnings to be gained from their responses to rapid and enforced change, and the steps they can take towards greater sustainability.

Starting with the obvious – in building back your business, consider what lessons can be learned from your handling of the pandemic and what can be applied or adapted for greater resilience in future models. For example, revision of space, the ways your employees worked, your energy demand.

Sustainability makes sense

So can you use your post-pandemic recovery and path to sustainability to win and retain customers, improve your resilience and reduce operating costs? And will you be able to demonstrate such tangible value from your efforts? Your actions will decide this, but it will also take green investment and strong government support, including subsidies, technology funding and fair penalties to balance action versus inaction. Strong consumer voices calling for commitment to tackling climate change are also required, as is individual consumer commitment to sustainability in their own lives.

It’s not to say any of this will be straightforward but there’s a clear opportunity for organisations to prioritise a green recovery as they evolve into a set-up fit for the post-COVID world. Companies that already had a robust plan in place to improve their sustainability may now be in a position to accelerate it. Some who had yet to consider a sustainability programme might find their focus sharpened by recovery efforts.

Lessons learned

  • Your customers’ wants and needs may have shifted during lockdown, giving you the chance to increase your brand credentials by aligning your current products/services to them (including through sustainability)

  • Adopt new ways of working to improve employee wellbeing, boost energy efficiency, reduce operating costs and cut carbon emissions – including continuing or adapting changes made necessary by the overnight imposition of national lockdown

  • For example, consider how buildings should be used and managed, including deciding what space is actually needed for true productivity

  • As pollution and services pick up again, monitor your operations closely, and at a granular level, to bring about consistent reductions in energy, and performance measurement against efficiency targets. This may include optimising energy use and baseloads during downtime to reduce costs

  • Look into whether you should boost your business’ resilience through local energy ownership, making you less dependent on external factors beyond your control

  • Create strength in numbers by joining forces within your industry sector to lobby government for subsidies and support. Likewise, find innovative partners with whom to share expertise, evaluate technological developments and fund improvements

  • Assess the potential for improved sustainability as a quick route to competitive advantage, cost savings and efficiencies

Sustainability as a driver of innovation

Sustainability assumes greater relevance in the context of innovation. Differentiation of products and services plays a significant role in shaping an organisation’s prospects in the market, and increasingly, that differentiation is the product of sustainability-driven innovation.

Efforts to drive innovation can either be sustaining, providing an incremental advantage within the current competitive landscape, or they can be disruptive. Both types are important since they add value to the company, but disruptive innovation opens up new roads that organisations may not have considered. And either type may be driven by sustainability concerns. For example, the business looking to decarbonise discovers its waste heat can be recovered and used by neighbouring businesses and the local community, generating new revenue streams from a different business model.

You may be coming to the end of one of your toughest years yet as a business, but any changes you have already made in response to an unprecedented situation may just be the first step to becoming a stronger, more resilient and more sustainable organisation, better equipped to face the challenges of 2021.


Written by Paul French

Paul French has held senior roles in the insurance, telecoms and IoT sectors and currently is E.ON’s Director of Business Solutions and the business unit’s Country Head within E.ON’s global structure. His focus is on delivering the best possible commercial outcomes and ROI for his customers, while also helping them to achieve their sustainability and CSR objectives.