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How shifting to digital and focusing on sustainability will help businesses thrive and evolve through COVID-19

  • Knowledge
How shifting to digital and focusing on sustainability will help businesses thrive and evolve through COVID-19

As the world comes to terms with a global pandemic that has turned the lives of people around the world upside down, it is clear we are living in extraordinary times. While it is tempting to talk about getting “back to normal,” we will almost certainly not go back to the way things were. And from a business perspective, going back to normal might be a challenge.

According to the Business of Fashion’s The State of Fashion 2020: Coronavirus Update, businesses, particularly in the fashion industry, have to refocus. Consumer mindsets are shifting, digital value is increasing, and innovation is a must. To weather this storm, a business must be nimble and quick to adapt, and that adaptation must continue when the storm is over.

The decade that we earmarked for getting our climate on track for net zero by 2050 and making progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals will now play out in a new paradigm, where transformational change takes on whole new possibilities. We can undoubtedly emerge as a stronger global community and more resilient society if we seize the opportunity of this crisis, of this wake-up call, to collectively chart a course towards the future we want. Or we will return to this old system that failed us and will fail us again when we need it the most.

Right now, businesses across many industries are currently in survival mode. Those who will see success, as per the BoF report, “will have made bold and rapid interventions to stabilise their core business” before doing anything else, like emerging in new markets or looking for new areas of growth. As businesses pare their capabilities back and consider what actions are truly necessary, they are realising the strengths and weaknesses of their offerings. The global COVID-19 crisis will make the strong brands stronger and more resilient, if they can mitigate the damage, innovating and adapting to the way people’s mindsets are changing.

How are those mindsets changing?

According to YouGov’s 2020 Affluent Perspective Global Study, COVID-19 U.S. Recontact, confidence in the economy dropped 14 points in just the first two weeks of March, and 86% of affluent individuals are expecting a recession to hit at the end of this crisis. That means less spending, both on goods and services. While we are still in the midst of this crisis, however, BoF found that digital spending is on the rise – Chinese e-commerce site Taobao has seen an increase of 700% since the outbreak. While BoF is also predicting a decrease in spending in the future, estimating that 65% of consumers expect to decrease their spending on apparel, only 40% expect to decrease total household spending.

Accelerating demand online isn’t an easy task. According to BoF’s McKinsey survey, almost a quarter of Americans and Europeans will increase their spend via social channels. That means it is time for brands to be as digitally savvy as they can possibly be. As more people spend more time at home, marketers have more opportunities to capture people digitally. Taking this opportunity to act like a solely digital business is a great idea. Thinking about how a bricks-and-mortar presence can support digital rather than the other way around; reallocating talent and time for digital initiatives; and investigating things like live streaming and social commerce platforms are all wise moves.

From digital to sustainability

Along with this increase in a digital focus, the pandemic is also intensifying the discussion around sustainability. Overconsumption, materialism and unsustainable business practices will become even less tolerable, particularly for Gen-Z and Millennials.

“The virus, I think, can be seen as a representation of our conscience,” trend forecaster Li Edelkoort said to the BoF. “It brings to light what is so terribly wrong with society and every day that becomes more clear. It teaches us to slow down and to change our ways.” Those businesses that can restructure their strategies to become more sustainable will now be speaking to an audience that has likely never been more interested. They will want fewer, better things, and keeping this in mind can help businesses thrive.

It might be tempting to lose focus on how sustainability fits into your overall business strategy. But, now, possibly more than ever, is the time to double down on your sustainable actions. According to a recent report from McKinsey & Company, Addressing climate change in a post-pandemic world, climate action remains critical over the next decade, and investing in climate-resilient infrastructure, as well as transitioning to a lower carbon future, can drive job creation and increase overall resilience.

The McKinsey report offers several suggestions, like looking to working remotely and relying more heavily on digital channels to help companies endure after lockdowns end. They also point to repatriating supply chains and seizing this moment to decarbonise through doing away with carbon-insensitive assets. There are lots of opportunities to make operations both more resilient and sustainable – the two really go hand-in-hand – as well as transforming business as a whole.

The role of the Butterfly Mark

At Positive Luxury, we challenge brands through our assessment process to think two to five years ahead, making businesses think about their strategies holistically, not just their production line, creating space where complex narratives and evidence can be drawn together.

When a brand successfully completes our assessment process, they are awarded a Butterfly Mark. When displayed on their website, that Mark not only reflects the actions a brand is taking to maximise their sustainability, but it also interactive. As someone interacts with their Mark online, we are able to track those interactions and get a sense of what positive actions people care about right now.

The five positive actions that people care about the most have not changed since coronavirus was declared a global pandemic. People still care deeply about a brand that promotes equal pay, supports philanthropic causes, uses recyclable packaging, is PVC free and sources materials responsibly. What is increasing is people’s interest in brands that do not use harsh chemicals. That means, from our perspective at Positive Luxury, while people might be buying less through this pandemic, they still care about the positive impact the brands with our community are having.

Our role is, and has always been, to support leaders in business by enabling strategic and systemic thinking, as well as reflecting on the leadership we need and the economy we want. We believe that we can help people acquire the knowledge, skills and insights they need to navigate and lead in a changing world while mobilising people to choose the brands that are genuinely making a positive impact in the world.

The way we guide the brands in the Positive Luxury community is the way all businesses should be working going forward, particularly after these challenging times end. If there is any silver lining, we hope it all will catalyse change and help both people and brands see what they can do to contribute to a more stable and sustainable future.

If you want to connect with us and have stories to share, please email us on Stay well and stay positive.

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Written by - Tara MacInnis

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