Since it struck, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed many underlying global and local issues that exist in our society such as education inequality, healthcare needs and employment insecurities. Above all, the pandemic is an eye-opener on the impact of businesses and human consumption on the environment.

As the world slowly recovers from the havoc created by Covid, sustainability efforts seem to have taken a back seat as economies struggle with survival and adapting to the new normal.

Weeks after countries went into lockdowns, the media reported on dolphins appearing at places where they were never seen for decades. Pink flamingos and curly pelicans flourished in Albania and dugongs were spotted swimming in Thailand. While wildlife and nature thrived, the carbon dioxide in the air dropped significantly as the world stopped travelling. Businesses adapted quickly with meetings as well as international conferences held via Zoom and other online mediums.

And, people have seen how nature can recover if we give it a chance by slowing down and changing our ways. They have been inspired by what they read and the possibility of making real change. The role and significance of living and working sustainably is increasing as consumers globally became more aware and their over-arching wish to make the world a better place.

Some organisations try to make a difference, voluntarily and sometimes forced by circumstances. Palm oil plantations, for example, have had to work on overdrive on their image due to accusations of destroying rainforest and the habitat of the endangered orang-utans to cultivate oil palm. So, they invested in traceability which is a critical aspect in sustainability. Traceability looks at where their palm oil comes from, what sort of practices they have implemented to produce them. This is important as consumers have become more conscious in their choices to support the ones that do it the right way. Consumers are exercising their power of choice to make an impact on the environment.

When I took on my position as the Chief of Sustainability at the PETRA Group, I was glad to see that I could well relate to the ethos of the Group and its businesses. My role is challenging, it is more like a role of conscience, and I am there to remind my colleagues that while we need to make profits, we must also run our businesses sustainably. We want to be competitive, ensure that we achieve the highest quality, but we must do our part to lift society and create a more sustainable eco-system for all.

Although PETRA Group’s corporate goal is in the pursuit of long-term profitability, we remain connected to our core value: doing things as sustainably for people, society and the environment. Whether it is our modular housing business where we provide solutions to consciously reduce the carbon footprint and reduce construction pollution, or our Green Rubber business where we address one of the world’s biggest waste issues by recycling rubber waste, sustainability is engrained into the way we do business.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Report which details how each country performs against the UN’s sustainable development goals currently shows how some countries are ahead of others, but everyone is behind in achieving the goals. Meanwhile, the PwC’s SDG Challenge 2020 found that although 73% of Malaysian companies mentioned the SDGs in their reporting, only 20% had included them in their published business strategy.

What does all the data tell us? Simply that what we have not been doing enough. Businesses must step up to do more. We need to start making changes in a larger and more impactful scale to make a difference. We do not have to wait until another global disaster like the Covid-19 pandemic to hit us before we take a note of how we impact life on earth.

Mooreyameen Mohamad is the Chief of Sustainability at PETRA Group.

** The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Astro AWANI.