The concept of sustainability has received plenty of attention in recent years, but in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, businesses find themselves in a precarious position. As so-called “non-essential” companies shut their doors indefinitely, where does sustainability fit in?
Living more sustainably involves evolving into a more conscious consumer. This includes practising conscientious buying and working to support sustainable businesses in every industry. At the corporate level, sustainability means not only adhering to clean energy and sustainability practices, but also paying employees a living wage.
Data indicates that workers are more productive now than at any other time in history, yet their wages don’t necessarily reflect that strong work ethic. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reports that, since 1979, productivity has increased by 69.6%, while hourly pay increases have fallen far behind at 11.6%.
UK workers have gotten an income boost over the last few years in the form of the national living wage. Employees in other countries aren’t quite so lucky, however, raising a myriad of questions about how ethical business practices relate to quality of life. How can a business be sustainable if it can’t even pay its workers a living wage, and, in times of instability, how can philanthropic consumers ensure they’re supporting ethical and sustainable companies?
The Rewards of Social Impact Investing
In many ways, sustainability serves as an investment in humanity’s future. Consumers looking for a way to fuel that investment may choose to support companies that prioritise socially responsible investment (SRI). In the realm of SRI, a company works to consider social good alongside financial returns, supporting positive social and environmental change.
Interestingly, while SRIs may sound like a fringe corporate entity, global sustainable assets are worth nearly $23 trillion in US dollars. The most prominent startup industries for sustainable investment include agriculture, education, financial inclusion, and clean energy. The ultimate goal of SRIs is to bring value to the world rather than just to stakeholders and investors.
Even in times of instability, quarantine, and global pandemic, consumers can still support socially responsible investments. All it takes is a bit of research into socially conscious companies and their backers. With just a few clicks, for example, environmentally conscious consumers can discover which companies are working toward lower overall emissions and decarbonise their heating and cooling systems.
Leaders in Renewable Energy
As previously mentioned, clean energy is a major player in the realm of social impact investing. That’s because renewable energy can help both households and businesses reduce their carbon footprint as well as bring down energy bills. Common renewable energy sources include tidal power, solar, and biomass, but wind power stands out as the leader in renewables.
In fact, wind turbines (especially offshore turbines) power an estimated 12 million homes in the UK. The UK’s dominance in the offshore turbine market has made it the “world’s largest offshore wind market” according to the Global Wind and Energy Council.
As exemplified by the wind turbine market in the UK, certain regions and companies utilise clean energy more than others. A number of factors can contribute to a particular region’s viability when it relates to renewable energy.
For example, the US state of Texas shows promise as a wind power hotspot, but the production of offshore wind farms has stalled due to exorbitant costs and the seasonal threat of hurricanes. Therefore, investors looking into the offshore turbine market may be more inclined to endow UK-based clean energy companies with their support rather than those in Texas.
Helping Employees to Thrive
In conversations about sustainable business practices, it’s important to note that true sustainability involves much more than just environmental principles such as clean energy. Ethics play an integral role as well, at every level of the supply chain, from harvest to production, advertising, and beyond.
True sustainability can only be achieved when workers and employees are well-protected and paid an ethical, liveable wage. Depending on where workers live, those wages may look different.
For instance, workers in rural communities may receive a lower wage than city dwellers, even if their job duties are essentially the same. The minimum living wage in greater London is £10.75 per hour, compared to £9.30 per hour elsewhere. That income disparity is similar in other global metropolitan areas including New York City.
In major cities including London and NYC, the cost of living is typically much higher than in smaller towns and rural areas. For example, it costs 129% more to live in New York City compared to the national average. This doesn’t leave much financial breathing room for employees receiving minimum wage. Truly sustainable companies may choose to pay their employees an even greater wage to ensure that their monthly bills and costs are covered.
Along with ensuring sustainable business practices, taking care of one’s employees is now more important than ever. As the world witnesses firsthand how climate change may indeed increase disease outbreaks, corporate sustainability and ethics have become vital. Consumers can use their spending power to support those companies that pay their workers a living wage in addition to fuelling the clean energy revolution.