In the post-coronavirus world, people might concentrate more on individual hygiene above climatic priorities
In 1994, with only 40 to 80 of the Arctic foxes alive, the species was on the verge of extinction in Scandinavia.
During that critical time, Fjällräven, the Swedish outdoor equipment company, teamed up with European Union to save the Arctic fox from becoming endangered. Since then, the number of these animals in Scandinavia climbed to well over 200.
Fjällräven's role in protection of the environment, however, did not end with the Arctic fox. In the subsequent years, the company emerged as one of the pioneers to integrate sustainability in its business model.
A sustainable business has minimal negative impacts, or potentially positive effects, on the global or local environment, community, society, and the economy at large.
In the first quarter of the 21st century, sustainability was evolving as a buzzword as companies like Nike, Adidas, Unilever, Nestlé, Walmart, IKEA, H&M and many others were gradually stepping up to it.
In Bangladesh too, Levi Strauss's "Water Action Strategy 2025" initiative to make jeans greener by reducing the use of water by 50 percent had caught on.
At least 21 Bangladesh suppliers of to the world's largest jeans maker, including Ananta Group and Envoy Group, fell in line with the Levi action plan.
But the Coronavirus pandemic is threatening to change the sustainability progress story.
Sharif Zahir, managing director of Ananta Group, told The Business Standard that "now the concentration has been shifted from sustainability to survival."
"Most of the billion-dollar brands in the west are now opting for strategies to survive as their outlets have remained closed for a long time. So most of them are taking extreme steps like layoffs, order cancellations etc."
"In Bangladesh, the garment factories have been shut since March 25. Against this backdrop, be it Levi's or any other global brand, there has been random order cancellations," Sharif Zahir said.
As ensuring sustainability often involves changing materials, logistics and production processes, GlobalData analyst Emily Salter is anxious that "sustainability is no longer top of retailers' and consumers' agendas," and in the post coronavirus world, its operations may slow down.
Ahsan H Mansur, a renowned economist in Bangladesh, however, believes that the buzz will lose momentum because of Covid-19, but "only for a short time."
"I would not over emphasise Covid-19's impacts on sustainability," said Ahsan H Mansur.
"The immediate concern would be to address the overall crisis by adopting actions to save workers and the industry."
"But when the economy rebounds, we have to address the fundamental environmental issues," the economist added.
The overall crisis, however, is only likely to worsen with the unsold stocks that retailers would be stuck with.
Since all non-essential stores are closed and website and social media-based trading are also on hold, much of the stock would be in trouble due to seasonal concerns.
This has led to another environmental concern about how these unsold items will be disposed of.
Health experts around the world, including the World Health Organisation, have been spearheading global campaigns to prevent the coronavirus from spreading further.
With growing consciousness towards hygiene, it is highly unlikely that people in the post Covid-19 time would be interested in second hand or used items.
So what could help companies to overcome this crisis?
The British luxury fashion house, Burberry, faced a similar crisis in 2018 and they burned down most of their stocked items, sparking strong criticism.
GlobalData's Emily Salter instead recommends companies to take well calculated and wise steps to address such a crisis.
Kurt Geiger, an upmarket British footwear and accessories retailer, is an ideal example of how to handle such an emergency.
As Covid-19 is rattling businesses and bringing them to an apparently never-ending shut-down, Kurt Geiger is "dedicating itself to small acts of kindness," British newspaper Independent reported.
They are asking store managers to distribute "£100 Kurt Geiger vouchers to NHS staff (health workers) in critical care departments, offering 55 vouchers per hospital."
Besides, the brand is offering NHS workers a 50 percent discount for a whole year.
With an apt strategy and a humane approach, Kurt Geiger received excellent media coverage and at the same time, found a way to sell their products.
What lies ahead for sustainability progress?
At present, the coronavirus-stricken world is seeing people rush to buy hand sanitisers in unsustainable plastic bottles. In the post-coronavirus world, however, they might appeal for individual hygiene above climatic priorities.
However, it is not just hand sanitisers in plastic bottles, many fear that the financially struggling post-coronavirus world could rush for a cheaper backpack instead of Fjällräven's Re-Kånken backpack woven from 11 plastic bottles that allows the backpack to be eventually recycled and reproduced.
But Ahsan H Mansur cast away such worries.
He said, "Sustainability is a long term issue. It is not a short time crisis issue. For the sake of our own survival, we have to continue with remaining sustainable."
Ananta Group's Sharif Zahir agreed with Ahsan H Mansur. He thinks that following the Covid-19 pandemic, sustainability should be an even bigger issue. "Considering environmental factors, cost effectiveness and marketability, more sustainable measures should be taken in the future."
Zahir added, "Sustainability is not a charity, it is a unique selling point."