Preparing for “the new normal”

11 Jun 2020
Robert Perry, Manager, Sustainable Leadership, Sustainable Business Council

The New Zealand response to Covid-19 has shown us all what decisive action looks like. As Sir Jonathan Porritt said recently in The Independent, "We are capable of doing astonishing things".

At SBC, we believe New Zealand is well positioned to be the first country to emerge from the pandemic slowdown and stay Covid-19 free. We are also encouraged by the latest research from WBCSD which shows sustainable businesses have been far more resilient during the crisis and are better positioned for recovery.

67 stocks of European WBCSD members are more resilient in the view of investors.

And what we are hearing loudly from our members is that we need to seize this opportunity because it won’t come back again.  And this was echoed by Sir Jonathan Porritt.

This certainly gives us hope that we can lock-in and capitalise on some of the gains and lessons learned during lockdown, as well leaving behind what has become obsolete in pursuing a sustainable future.

For instance, the rapid adoption of technology where remote working became a ‘new normal’ literally overnight for many businesses highlights our ability to innovate. And the benefits to be gained are massive.  A recent inquiry by the Productivity Commission concluded that “if we want higher incomes for ourselves and our children, we need to take up technology at a faster rate than has been the case in recent years".

But with no playbook for what is unfolding, the danger is we act with yesterday’s logic. Future-focused scenario-based strategic planning is critical to inspire bold thinking and informed decision-making.

The strength of SBC membership is the space for businesses to work together. On 5 June, we brought together a group of 30 strategists, planners and sustainability leads for an online workshop.

Our aim was to help members build a shared understanding of emerging trends and new norms, as well as new market opportunities reshaping the business operating environment. The workshop also provided members an opportunity to test their assumptions and share data that could be then plugged into their own strategic planning processes.

SBC online workshop - Published scenarios as shared with members

The New Zealand Treasury’s Nairn MacKibbon and Robert O’Hara joined us to give the group a detailed overview of their recent economic forecasts, as well key insights on how New Zealand is tracking against these forecasts.

My key takeout was that New Zealand’s recovery, like most other countries affected by Covid-19, remains very uncertain and depends on how long health responses are in place here and abroad, as well as how quickly international people movement is resumed, and the resiliency of firms. The latter point raises question about what does ‘resilience’ mean in a pandemic and how do we measure the resilience of firms?

Another key insight for me was that despite a growing list of scenarios and forecasts being published, they do not provide the granularity or timeliness to support business decision-making, especially by SMEs trying to pivot and repurpose their operations quickly.

The group looked at data gaps and explored how they could be filled collectively. Two outcomes have been already been actioned. The Treasury are sharing the group’s insights with other government agencies to identify opportunities to publish data in ways that can better help inform business decision making.

And members suggested that SBC could play a brokerage role by aggregating data from across our member network which members could then access be plugged into individual strategic planning processes. We have started an information register, shared here via Google Drive.

If you have data sources you wish to share and access this collective resource please use the link below or contact Robert Perry (