COVID-19 and the lab-leak hypothesis
As we pass the one-year mark of COVID-19 being categorized as a global pandemic, conversations surrounding its cause and virality have not subsided.8 Some discussions have centered around the lab-leak hypothesis, which proposes that the origin of the virus came from a laboratory accident. In May 2020, the World Health Organization labelled the lab-leak hypothesis as “extremely unlikely,” while the hypothesis of a zoonotic spillover – transmission from animals to people – was “likely to very likely.” 9
However, an open letter was published in the academic journal Science on May 14, 2021 by a group of 18 scientists.9 These scientists did not weigh in on evidence for either hypothesis, but voiced their concerns that the conclusion regarding the zoonotic spillover hypothesis – relative to the lab-leak hypothesis – was premature. They stated that both hypotheses must be taken seriously until there is sufficient data and that a proper investigation should focus on both hypotheses.
While there are other scientists who do not agree that the lab-leak hypothesis could be plausible, the open letter emphasizes the importance of hypotheses being falsifiable and testable, supported by hard data.8 While we can sometimes feel detached from scientific research and the academic community – due to difficult words and alien theories – research plays a large role in our daily lives. Certainly, this can be seen as the case with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Corporate sustainability and the Porter hypothesis
Corporate sustainability refers to an approach where organizations focus on ethical, social, economic, cultural and environmental dimensions of conducting business.10 One factor related to corporate sustainability is pollution prevention and control: although there is consensus that government legislation is required to regulate the environmental responsibilities of corporations, there is still debate on how these regulations should be formulated and how corporations can use said regulations to improve their own performance.
The Porter hypothesis, developed by economist Michael Porter in 1991, proposes that strict environmental regulations can result in a win-win scenario: efforts are made toward sustainable efficiency, while companies increase their overall performance and thus competitive edge.10 There is a wide range of literature that considers factors that would be important for the Porter hypothesis, two of which are flexible regulations (innovation friendly regulations that encourage businesses to develop new products and processes to meet regulatory requirements, rather than prescribed, specific processes) and innovative capabilities (underscored by corporations’ flexibility in meeting regulations).
In 2017, a group of researchers developed a framework to evaluate the design of environmental regulations and the ability of firms to achieve Porter’s win-win outcomes.10. After sampling case studies of major corporations, the researchers found that three assumptions related to the Porter hypothesis appear to be valid:
- Inflexible regulations force firms to be reactive and adversely affect financial performance;
- Flexible regulations help innovative firms meet regulations and improve performance; and,
- Firms without innovative capabilities cannot improve their financial performance, even with flexible regulations.
Overall, the researchers provided valuable insights regarding the way that governments can design environmental regulations to encourage corporate sustainability, as well as how businesses can improve their private benefits of sustainability.10 For example, aligned with the Porter hypothesis, reducing consumption of energy and raw materials that reduce waste and pollution can be linked to better market performance.