• If we neglect the here and now, we’re not just failing in our leadership roles, but we risk feeding the increasing distrust in institutions.
  • We highlight 3 lessons that can help companies be present in the moment, even while investing in and remaking long-term systems and searching for future-focused solutions.
  • Your business type does not limit how you respond in a crisis. For each sustainability goal, ask if there are ways to improve lives today. Use your strengths to serve a societal good.

The question of what role business should play in society is as old as, well, business itself.

Businesses invest in and think about the future – and all the issues that demand our attention, from climate change and nutrition inequity to this seemingly endless pandemic. However, we must also hold up a mirror and ask whether we’re doing enough for our world today as we focus on the needs of tomorrow. If we neglect the now, we’re not just failing in our leadership roles, but we risk feeding the increasing distrust in institutions. Besides, serving people and communities is the right thing to do.

Many businesses understand this and are very much present in the moment, even while investing in remaking long-term systems and searching for innovative future-focused solutions. Here at Nestlé we’ve made major investments in our net zero roadmap and have actively supported transitions to regenerative agriculture in places where we operate globally. All the while, however, we are investing in the here and now.

Lessons for the present and future

Here are three lessons we’ve learned that I hope can help other companies balance both essential needs:

  • Lesson #1.

The type of business you’re in does not limit how you respond in a crisis. Find a lane to help, even if it’s a lane you’ve never driven in.

The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated how interconnected we are globally. Painfully, however, it’s revealed once again how inequity determines who lives and who dies. The distribution of vaccines continues to be a struggle, as some nations move into the vaccine booster phase, while others haven’t been able to inoculate even their most vulnerable populations.

Nestlé is fully behind COVAX, the global facility for the procurement and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, donating CHF2 million to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. We also supported the search for a vaccine, giving money in the early months of the pandemic to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness, which played a critical role in COVID-19 vaccine development.

  • Lesson #2

With every sustainability goal, ask yourself whether there are ways to improve the lives and environments of people today.

It’s heartening to see global brands stepping up to help address climate change. Nestlé is one of a long list of companies that have signed on to support the Paris Climate Agreement, and our company has made significant, long-term changes and investments to address climate change.

This work is essential, and companies should be transparent and aggressive in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. But the important long-term work will not undo the damage of Hurricane Ida that in late August pummeled the United States’ Gulf Coast, and it will not quench the drought-stricken parts of the world that we count on to grow our foods.

Businesses should redouble long-term sustainability plans, but also ask how the work can improve people’s lives today. With the climate, it is important to have a robust long game and an expansive short game – that’s how to support communities today, and drive the prospect for better lives in the years ahead.

  • Lesson #3

Where can your business lead during a crisis? Logistics? Financial resources? Food donations? Use your strengths to lead and serve a societal good.

Food and nutrition access is one area that a casual observer would expect Nestlé to lead. Nestlé is constantly looking for innovative ways to solve nutrition needs. That means improving the foods we produce through micronutrient fortification, helping to provide vital nutrients to places in the world where such foods are hard to come by. In Ghana, for instance, we partnered with the nation’s First Lady, Rebecca Akufo-Addo, to support a three-year campaign to drive behavioural change and help introduce iron-rich food in daily diets. We’ve made similar efforts in other parts of the world.

Food insecurity, too, is an everyday challenge made worse by the pandemic. At Nestlé, we used our global network—and people on the ground—to assess needs and gauge where we could best help. From donating food to more than 100 organizations in Honduras to providing food and beverages to vulnerable populations in Pakistan, we found in-the-moment ways of using our business for good. It’s incumbent upon businesses to complement the work of governments and charities in real time. During an all-hands-on-deck moments like a pandemic or a natural disaster, the world needs every hand.

What is the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact summit?

It’s an annual meeting featuring top examples of public-private cooperation and Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies being used to develop the sustainable development agenda.

It runs alongside the United Nations General Assembly, which this year features a one-day climate summit. This is timely given rising public fears – and citizen action – over weather conditions, pollution, ocean health and dwindling wildlife. It also reflects the understanding of the growing business case for action.

The UN’s Strategic Development Goals and the Paris Agreement provide the architecture for resolving many of these challenges. But to achieve this, we need to change the patterns of production, operation and consumption.

The World Economic Forum’s work is key, with the summit offering the opportunity to debate, discuss and engage on these issues at a global policy level.

We should celebrate the fact that businesses today have a mandate – and the expectation – to ensure that they provide value not just for shareholders, but for society at large. The businesses that fail to meet the mark will pay a price; conscious and savvy consumers today will see to it.

And as we laud efforts to create a sustainable future, we’d be wise to keep our perspective and to serve the needs of today, even as we set our sights on a better tomorrow.