Lighthouse in uncertain times


Uncertain, confusing, incalculable – the world is in a crisis of trust. Companies must now make greater use of their trust capital. Their mission: inform, explain, show solutions and bring about change.

Trust is the glue of society, say sociologists. The main factor for cohesion and cooperation, for prosperity, innovation and progress. But humanity is in the process of squandering this valuable asset. The social cement is becoming more and more fragile, and trust in institutions continues to weaken worldwide, according to the current diagnosis made at the World Economic Forum (WEF). This result from the Edelman Trust Barometer correlates with a gloomy view of the overall state of the world. The prospects for the next ten years have become increasingly worse, says the Global Risk Report, which was also presented in Davos.

The four apocalyptic riders of 2024 are extreme weather events, disinformation and misinformation generated by AI, social and political polarization, and rising costs of living. There are numerous other grievances. To many people, the world appears to be a series of seemingly endless crises and an accumulation of huge long-term problems, inundated by a flood of information and opinions. It is understandable that uncertainty, discouragement and, at worst, resignation are spreading.

But here the eternal dualism of pessimistic and optimistic perspectives comes into play. Is the glass half empty – or rather half full? The history of humanity: Isn't it ultimately – despite all the setbacks and catastrophes – a history of progress, technological innovations and social achievements? For me it's more of a rhetorical question. Because I am in the camp of (critical) optimists. Especially because – in addition to the ability to trust and act sensibly together – we also have another valuable raw material within us: inventiveness and creativity.

This raw material must be mined and refined again. Because it provides the innovations and sustainable solutions that the world so urgently needs. The economy, especially the chemical and plastics industry with its countless large and medium-sized companies, start-ups and cooperations, proves this again and again.

Repay trust capital

But it is just the trust in the management and implementation of innovations that is eroding enormously. And that brings me to what I derive from the Trust Barometer and this year's WEF motto “Rebuilding Trust”: the responsibility of companies to actively participate in implementing innovations, in stabilizing trust, in spreading confidence. Because companies continue to be shown the highest level of trust among all institutions. (Which doesn't mean that the economy doesn't also have to work hard on its reputation.)

With this capital of trust, with their great knowledge and influence, companies must become a lighthouse in our highly complex world. They must inform, explain, show solutions, and bring about change on all levels – ecological, economic and social. Covestro wants to promote such a change in 3D. When it comes to the environment, this means: With our decisive commitment to the circular economy, we want to help preserve our endangered natural resources. Circularity must become a global guiding principle in business and society.

At the same time, the entire economic system needs to be reconsidered. This includes the issue of sufficiency, the question of the right level of consumption and production. One thing is clear: In the future, value creation must be more closely aligned to sustainable goals in macroeconomic and microeconomic terms. Covestro promotes this idea by driving forward the green transformation in many areas with the help of circular, climate-neutral materials.

But change will not happen unless the social foundations for it are strengthened. This is particularly true for three interrelated spheres: the willingness to engage in constructive, rational dialogue, scientific education, and the acceptance and scope of science.

All three are under pressure. According to the Trust Barometer, the “infodemic” is a key cause of the crisis of trust, and the Global Risk Report names AI-driven misinformation and disinformation as the biggest risk over a two-year period. This should galvanize everyone, including the economy. All levels of society must now counter increasing populism and divisive tendencies with more fact-based thinking. In addition, the education systems are often neither forward-looking nor accessible enough. And skepticism of science is now growing again – after an increase in credibility in connection with the corona pandemic.

As a science-based, open company, Covestro wants to address these issues more closely in collaboration with like-minded people. It is essential to convey the value of rationality, education and research and to make innovations tangible that can advance the economy and society. We have to show that positive change is possible. And that it is worth it for everyone. Then hopefully trust can be regained.

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