The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the power major corporations can have on major issues like climate change, according to Unilever Chief Sustainability Officer Rebecca Marmot.

"COVID has really driven home the importance of combating climate change," Marmot said during an Insider virtual event about sustainability in business. "We haven't taken our eye off the ball. Now is the time more than ever."

Marmot and Judith Batchelar, the director of corporate responsibility and sustainability at Sainsbury's Supermarkets, discussed the role of companies in addressing climate change at Insider's "Act to Impact: Keeping our Promises to the Planet" event, presented by Deloitte.

Deloitte's global deputy chief executive, David Sproul, led a portion of the panel with Marmot and Batchelar on corporations' commitment to action.

Sproul emphasized data from Deloitte showing that 82% of executives expressed concern regarding climate change.

"Business has a responsibility to be a force for good in this world and the topic of climate change is at the top of the agenda for all CEOs globally," Sproul said.

Sproul asked the two leaders what their companies have been doing to address climate change beyond talking about it.

Batchelar and Marmot said companies are more motivated than ever before. Consumers are helping hold companies accountable and businesses with higher ESG ratings have fared better overall during the pandemic.

"Consumers want to buy from companies or from organizations or brands that represent issues that are important to them," Marmot said.

Sproul said many people in the public have been increasingly skeptical about whether companies are actually taking action to alleviate climate change versus using it as a corporate talking point.

It takes time for a company to fully incorporate "green" practices into its business model

At Sainsbury's Supermarkets - the second largest grocery chain in the UK - incorporating environmentally friendly protocol into a large company can be difficult, Batchelar said.

"You can have a lot of false starts," she said. "People should feel reassured we're doing these things, but it's very complicated and managing the tradeoffs … require us to be very thoughtful and considerate."

A lot of the efforts companies make toward environmentally friendly options might not be immediately apparent to customers either. Many companies start by implementing protocol within the company before bringing the changes to public-facing sectors, according to Batchelar.

"A lot of the action that's taken place so far is in the company's own operations, because those are the things that it's easiest to fix," Batchelar said, pointing to efforts to implement green energy into heating and refrigeration systems at Sainsbury's.

Marmot said it can take time to fully integrate sustainable practices into a business model, because it has to be fully aligned with the company as a whole and has to be a driving goal. For major consumer-goods producers like Unilever, it means incorporating more plant-based products and trying to move away from plastics.

Ultimately, Batchelar said the pandemic has proven that companies can come together to combat major crises, and climate change is no exception.

"I think what the pandemic has shown us is what we're capable of, both individually and as a business," Batchelar said. "What Sainsbury's has delivered throughout the coronavirus, in feeding the nation, staying open, keeping our colleagues safe, keeping our customers safe, doubling our online deliveries, all of those kinds of things have shown us … what we're capable of in collaboration with others."

Read the original article on Business Insider