Published 2 years ago.
About a 6 minute read.
Image: Alex Green/Pexels
As we emerge from COVID-19 and mental health rises up the corporate agenda, how
can businesses incorporate the subject into their core sustainability agenda, rather than treat it as a separate issue?
As we enter a second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, national lockdowns are
taking their toll. With limited social contact and far-from-ideal home-working
conditions, many people struggle to cope with the new realities of daily life.
According to the Centers for Disease Contol and Prevention, the number of
adults in the US suffering
from anxiety or depression jumped fourfold in the 18 months prior to December
It is not surprising that more companies are concerned about the emotional wellbeing of their employees during this time. If a company is only as good as its
improving mental health in the workplace should be top of the corporate agenda.
That is certainly the view of BSR, which recently developed a
to help businesses improve employee mental wellbeing a resilience. “Employers
have a unique ability to improve the mental health of 157 million working US
adults, who spend more time ‘at work’ than on any other activity while awake,”
The issue was also the subject of a recent Sustainable Brands™
webinar. Hosted by social impact educational technology company
EVERFI, the session explored the intersections between our our physical,
environmental and economic health.
“As corporations ingrain sustainable practices into their supply chains, while also increasing their corporate social responsibility efforts, they may be overlooking an
element that weaves a thread between both of these initiatives: mental health,” said Erin
McClintock, EVERFI’s VP of Community Engagement Impact and Education.
Unlock customer insights on sustainability & your brand’s unique performance! Submit your brand (or any brand) into the 2024 annual study and receive unparalleled insights on customer perception of that brand’s performance. Benchmark how your customers rate your brand on social and environmental sustainability and overall brand trust, while seeing how your brand compares to others in the study. Space is limited! The deadline to become part of the study is January 15, 2024.
Collectively, her fellow speakers set out to ensure mental wellbeing is
integrated into corporate efforts to protect and look after people. In her
opening comments, Kellie Ballew — VP of Global Sustainability at the world’s
largest carpet manufacturer, Shaw
Industries — reminded
everybody how tough the past 12 months have been. On top of fighting the virus,
there was plenty of social and political upheaval — between the US election and
Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements, the atmosphere across the
country has remained fraught with collective tension.
Ballew acknowledged that business has a role to play in supporting mental
wellbeing. After all, as Dr Joseph
Allen from the Harvard School of
Public Health provocatively said, the person who manages your building has a
greater impact on your health than your doctor. “Think about that for a second.
The building and construction industry has such an important role to play in
she said. “We’ve all heard the unfortunate statistic that people spend 90
percent of their time
— and that was before COVID. It’s no wonder the spaces where we spend most of
our time impact our mental and physical wellbeing — and it’s an aspect of
sustainability that resonates with both our commercial and residential
The effects of the pandemic have further highlighted the stark inequalities
faced by people across the US in getting support for their physical and mental
health. Stacy Reingold, who leads brand sustainability impact programs at Danone North America, is all too aware of key societal gaps.
“Experiencing food insecurity can be a stressor, potentially causing challenges to individuals' mental health. Danone North America recognizes this and donated $1.5 million in funding and products during the pandemic to
improve food access in local communities across the US,” she said. “It’s so
important we talk about the challenges we're facing, including mental health, because every conversation can advance
progress towards solutions and dispel stigma around these challenges.”
AT&T has also been leveraging its
influence and reach to support what Brooke Hanson, the firm’s Director of
CSR, calls the “staggering” impacts on our mental health. Working with
NAMI, the biggest grassroots mental health charity
in the US last year, AT&T through Warner Media used its power to connect (and recruit some big
celebrities) to create a public service announcement based on the notion that
“it’s ok to not feel
The telecomms giant also collaborated with Mindright
Health — an alumnus from AT&T’s Aspire
Accelerator that helps incubate
educational technology solutions: “We collaborated to help connect young people
suffering from anxiety and depression with the resources they need” Hanson added.
At Danone North America, Reingold is proud of her company’s policies that aim to support employees, such as its flexible time-off policy — enabling staff and managers to discuss how having time off can improve mental well-being while still meeting business objectives.
With mental health rising up the corporate agenda, how important is it for
business to incorporate the subject into their core sustainability agenda rather
than see it as a separate issue? For Ballew, the pandemic has radically shifted
corporate philosophies. “Employers are more employee-centric than ever,” she
said. “Companies realise that employee wellbeing is critical to sustaining
businesses for the long term. And people and planet are inextricably linked.”
Danone North America also recognizes this intersectionality; its vision of One Planet.One Health focuses on the interconnectivity of health of people and health of the planet and the company’s unique opportunity to impact both through its actions and its products.
AT&T has seen growing climate anxiety among young people. “As a business, we’re really interested in this intersection — and how we
can help young people in how they’re feeling about climate change,” Hanson said.
The company has worked hard to provide content and resources related to environmental sustainability.
The panel was also keen to highlight the many environmental stressors that
continue to impact mental wellbeing. Ballew pointed to space design and product
selection in construction as obvious examples of how the built environment can
impact our mental health. “Research has shown that having enough natural light
is not only healthy for our eyes but also in encouraging positive circadian
rhythms, the internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycles,” she said.
The webinar session concluded with each panellist giving their advice to
companies looking to support mental health in their own spheres. Hanson
reflected on AT&T’s experiences in reaching out to its community to talk about
what’s important to them: “Focus on what’s in your DNA as a business. Financial
contributions are important; but beyond that, think about what’s unique about
your company — whether that’s your technology, your people, or your ability to
Reingold agrees that connecting actions to the core business strategy is key: “There are many pathways to create an impact in this space. So, you need to
understand what element you’re looking to positively impact and keep revising your strategy
to make sure you’re achieving exactly that, while also continuing to learn from
partners and experts.”
EVERFI’s McClintock wrapped up the session by reminding the audience that, when
it comes to addressing mental health issues as part of a wider corporate
strategy, “sustainability, like mental health, is a journey — and as we learn more, we can do more.”
Published Apr 12, 2021 11am EDT / 8am PDT / 4pm BST / 5pm CEST
Content creator extraordinaire.