By Dylan Powell, Research Analyst, Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions, Deloitte
Friday the 22nd of April marks World Earth Day and this year’s theme is ‘investing in our planet’. With so much focus on the problems and challenges facing the planet, it can be easy to forget about the solutions and mechanisms of change to improve outcomes. Significant progress has already been made in advocating and raising awareness of climate positive actions since the first World Earth Day in 1970. This week’s blog recognises World Earth Day as an opportunity to showcase progress but also to act as a catalyst and inspiration for change. This week’s blog provides examples of affirmative action from healthcare and life sciences acting boldly, innovating broadly and harnessing partnerships to implement equitably.
Stakeholders are recognising the growing complexity and threats from climate change
Earth day is one of the biggest environmental movements on the planet as over one billion people from 190 countries join demonstrations, projects and initiatives in efforts to help protect the planet. It draws attention to the environment and promotes conservation and sustainability in order to bring about behavioural change to protect the planet. What began as a mass protest in the US in 1970 over damage done to the planet, went global in 1992 with the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and led to the formation of the UN Convention on Climate Change and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity along with the Commission on Sustainable Development to monitor and report on the implementation of Earth Summit agreements. Since then, Earth Day has become a leading light in the fight to combat climate change, raise awareness of environmental issues and provide a forum for people to engage.1
The past decade has illustrated vividly the variety of detrimental impacts climate change is having on the health of our planet including reductions in biodiversity, rising sea levels, food scarcity and increased levels of pollution. Indeed, the effects of climate change are now being felt much closer to home: 2020 was the first year that the annual values for rainfall, temperature and sunshine were ranked in the top ten (the third warmest, fifth wettest and eighth sunniest on record), alongside the sunniest spring on record by a wide margin, severe flooding and recurrent storms.2 Higher temperatures also contributed to an extra 2,556 deaths (excluding deaths from COVID-19) in the UK during Summer 2020, a number set to triple by 2050.3
As the reality of these threats become more evident, businesses and citizens alike are demanding a higher investment in sustainability. For example, as we discussed in a recent blog on, Deloitte’s 2022 CxO Sustainability Report: The Disconnect Between Ambition and Impact, businesses have recognised that tackling the complex multifaceted problem of climate change will require a deep cultural change in every organisation’s mindset and approach, together with a focus on innovation, investment, and a strong creative strategy, as a necessary precursor to action.4
However, such actions are set to benefit both stakeholders and also shareholders with recent analysis showing a strong correlation between sustainable business practices, share prices, and business performance.5 As a consequence, companies who invest and prioritise robust environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards generally perform better across key performance metrics.High performing companies recognise that it doesn’t have to be a binary choice between green investment and profitability, with sustainability an essential component of longevity.6
Success breeds success: Maintaining momentum and inspiring action
So, while efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change are clearly underway, maintaining the momentum of change can be made easier through highlighting examples of success. The following examples demonstrate how the life sciences and healthcare industry are acting boldly, innovating broadly, and implementing equitably to help improve our planets health.
The National Health Service (NHS) has set an ambitious target of becoming the world’s first net zero health system by 2040.7 If successful this will set a precedent and gauntlet for others to follow.8 The NHS aims to meet its ambitions by reimagining and redesigning health by delivering care closer to home, reducing waste from medicines in addition to making sure new assets and buildings are built sustainability. These changes will be central to global efforts in combating climate change given that healthcare is estimated to contribute around five per cent of global carbon emissions.9
There is no shortage of examples of innovation in improving planetary health, with pharma companies taking a significant role in innovating their practices. Green chemistry has been heralded as one of the key paradigms in overcoming the energy and resource intense manufacturing of medicines. In one example a company used green chemistry principles in their manufacturing of a new product; and results exceeding expectations.10 Benefits included 78 per cent less waste and 46 per cent less water needed. Furthermore, the yield also increased by over 20 per cent, highlighting greener processes do not always compromise on productivity.11 Alongside manufacturing improvements, advancements in data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) are improving company’s ability to conduct leaner, more precise and diverse clinical trials- which is accelerating drug discovery and decelerating environmental impacts.
Collaborating to implement solutions equitably
Most would agree the public health benefits and number of lives saved through pharmaceuticals is unquestionable. However, with billions of safe medicines thrown away each year and over half the world’s population unable to access medicines, questions arise as to whether these benefits are unsustainable and exclusive to a privileged minority?12,13 Whilst companies can still maintain a competitive advantage with new products and therapeutics, there is a growing consensus that collaboration rather than competition is essential to achieve improvements in both human and planetary health.14
What is clear is that we all share a collective responsibility to help accelerate the transition to an equitable, prosperous green economy for all. Individuals, governments, institutions and businesses alike have a considerable contribution to make which together compound and multiply. What every person on the planet chooses to do, has a huge force multiplier effect on the whole ecosystem leading to private corporations and government needing to take action to keep pace. Indeed, to achieve and overcome environmental, social and economic challenges, there is a requirement for everyone to play their part and take bold action, innovate broadly and move beyond the norm. Viewing change through an ecosystem lens will bring about the desired actions and outcomes much faster than without collective action.