Bushfires, Royal Commissions and a global pandemic force businesses to consider sustainability

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A shift towards prioritising sustainability has been seen by Australian companies over the past 18 months, with immense value created for many organisations.

During a year involving Royal Comissions, bushfires and a global pandemic, a change occurred in how individuals and businesses perceive their responsibility towards sustainable action and risk, according to Victoria Whitaker, partner in risk advisory at Deloitte.

“Previously we would think about risk in regards to our business. And these three events have really pushed people to think about risk to others in a very different way,” she says.

Whitaker believes that each event brought to light risks that are facing different aspects of our society and surfacing a responsibility of risk management on behalf of others.

This has been seen in the influx of investment dollars flowing into responsible and sustainable investments, transforming how some companies approach their operations.

“For some it’s a true differentiator in the marketplace because of the way they think about and perceive issues of sustainability and how they think holistically about their management,” Whitaker said.

“The big ones that we think about; Ben and Jerry's, or The Body Shop or L'Oreal, if you just look at their purpose and values as a company compared to the rest of the market you'll see that they're written in a very different way. You'll see that they're written in a way that is truly about the impact that they want to have on the world and, and how they're conceiving of their role in that.”

While some businesses lag in the uptake of ethical action and sustainable practices, Whitaker believes that it is the responsibility of organisantions to be accountable to their impact.

“Business under the Corporations Act is given the right of legal personhood, which means they're effectively an individual member of society. And as individual members of society, we have a duty and responsibility to act in a way that doesn't harm others,” she says.

“They really have a huge opportunity to think and act on issues like climate change. But there is also a moral duty to really think about this, and an opportunity to think of the economic benefits of being an early actor.”

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