The 2022 theme is Our Planet, Our Health, and on the back of the IPCC reports, it is very apt.
Walking along the Thames path I am struck by the discarded face masks, once prized items, now abandoned and heading into our already groaning oceans. I look online and am shocked by the rains in Australia, forcing friends of mine to sleep in their cars for safety as landslides threaten their homes.
A stark warning from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
While the pandemic has brought some localised elements of relief to the environment we live in, less air travel and wildlife habitats sprung anew, the IPCC* Working Group II climate report issued last month gave it’s bleakest warning yet. Signed by 195 countries and backed by 34k studies, it is clearly telling us that it’s now or never, “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet,” commented Working Group II Co-Chair Hans-Otto Pörtner. This warning was echoed by Monday’s Working Group III report, highlighting that exceeding 1.5C was “almost inevitable” and that immediate action to both reduce and reverse the CO2 levels in our air is needed to ensure that any overshoot is temporary. Vitally the latest report also put forward a plan, key ideas that the researchers say are critical to keeping the world safe. “We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future. We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee.
The role of pharma is shifting
Working in healthcare communications I have always felt a satisfaction in supporting companies that have a social mission as their overriding focus. Helping to bring life-saving preventatives and therapeutics to people most at need has brought a sense of satisfaction and joy over the years, particularly when witnessing the amazing collaboration around COVID-19. Global health, however, is inextricably linked to the health of our planet, and while I am encouraged as I witness the industry acknowledging its carbon contribution, see companies craft their ambitions and support the solidarity of programmes aimed at achieving the UN SDGs, like the International Leadership Group for a Net Zero NHS and powerful statements from the ABPI and EFPIA among others, these latest reports tell us that more needs to be done. Not just in ambition, but also in demonstrating action in reducing the industry’s carbon footprint and wider environmental impact, while helping to address the social aspects that influence demand, in line with the urgent situation we face.
Of course, it’s not just the environment that will benefit either, this shift is vital to future business success. Research by Porter Novelli showed that 90% of healthcare professionals consider purpose in their prescribing, as do 80% of payors in their health technology appraisals.** A second round of research to further understand societies shifting expectation of the pharmaceutical industry in terms of societal purpose in sustainability and health equity will be launched later this year, so watch this space.
Harmonising standards – COVID proved that pharma collaboration can positively impact the world
Looking to other industries for inspiration, last week I took part in a workshop with the founders of The Sustainability CodeTM, who are working with global fashion and beauty brands towards a more sustainable future, and I was encouraged by the willingness to put competition aside to make a difference. Other industries have also come together to reduce their environmental impact with a pre-competitive cross industry approach, such as the Roundtable on sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Of course, pharma faces unique hurdles, and many companies are already operating to align to international standards such as the ISO2600 and local rules such as the Green Claims Code. Also, The Energize programme between Schneider Electric and 10 pharmaceutical companies to decarbonize the pharmaceutical value chain is a great step forward, but could more be done? The ABPI’s Vice President Pinder Sahota called for harmonised standards when she spoke at the Pharma Sustainability Integrates conference in February, and perhaps the plan set out this week by the IPCC is just the catalyst needed to make that a reality, even before governments meet in November to talk about tightening targets beyond those set at COP26.
Helping companies shift from ‘say’ to ‘do’ is at the heart of what we do at Porter Novelli. I am lucky to be part of a team that, in a world of rapidly changing expectations and milestones for success, understands the healthcare sector is at the forefront of delivering system impact and has worked with several leading pharmaceutical companies to deliver change in key demographics, helping them to lead more and solve more.
Do you feel you are ‘saying’ more than ‘doing’, or not shouting about your sustainability achievements enough? If so, please get in touch, we’d love to help you deliver.
*The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change.
**2020 Porter Novelli Global Purpose research of 1600 HCPs and Payors.