Sustainability: How can the pharma industry turn its sustainability ambitions into action?


Sustainability: How can the pharma industry turn its sustainability ambitions into action?

(Source: PharmaTimes 2019-06-26)

The last few weeks have reiterated the critical importance of sustainability action. From Extinction Rebellion and the overwhelmingly positive response the Committee on Climate Change’s call for net zero emission targets by 2050, to the UN’s report on biodiversity, to the pharma-specific crisis around opioids and prosecutions in the US; the issues are high profile, high impact and demand change.

The effect on the pharma industry was spelled out in a focused report by Fitch Solutions. It emphasised both the growing importance of sustainability issues to customers, employees and regulators – and the seemingly slow-moving response from the industry.

While there are many fantastic examples to be found of pharma companies helping to solve complex societal issues, they are not consistent across the industry and are rarely discussed publicly so do little to change the overall reputation of the industry among consumers and governments. As a result, the industry faces near-constant backlash and negative focus, despite appearing in top ten lists for charitable giving globally.

Transparency is key

As the Fitch report says, ‘those firms that implement strategic sustainability practice will outperform their peers over the long term’. The pharma industry is fundamentally about improving people’s health and as such provides social value. However, while companies are often doing a great deal of work in education and capacity building alongside product creation, it is rarely discussed in a holistic way, showing every aspect of how an organisation is seeking to improve health or tackle a specific disease area.

The advantages of moving from a siloed charity-giving model to an integrated problem-solving approach are multiple. With a clear ambition – that includes product creation as part of the solution – both internal and external stakeholders can be united regardless of their specific role or connection with the organisation.

Transparency towards achieving that ambition is key. When GSK published its new sustainability report last Autumn, it detailed clear targets for creating access to medicine and now it must report against them, without fear of showing how difficult some of them are to achieve. Unilever – seen as a leader with its Sustainable Living Plan – recently reported that while it had overachieved on some of its targets, it had failed to meet others and this openness to share challenges as well as success is crucial to building trust.

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