July 22, 2024

Health Minds

Nourishing Minds, Elevating Health

Sustainability and environmentalism in the pharmaceutical industry

4 min read

What is the importance of prioritising sustainability and environmentalism in the pharmaceutical industry?
The urgency of prioritising sustainability cannot be overstated. The World Economic Forum has predicted that by 2050, the climate crisis may cause an additional 14.5 million deaths, >2 billion healthy life years lost and $12.5 trillion in economic losses worldwide.

Climate change profoundly impacts nearly every aspect of human health, extending far beyond the obvious connections to respiratory and infectious diseases. Research suggests air pollution contributes to a staggering 20% of global stroke deaths, and that it’s a significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Moreover, the rise in eco-anxiety and climate-related PTSD is leading to a notable increase in the demand for mental health prescriptions. However you look at it, the climate crisis is exacerbating existing health challenges and placing additional burdens on already strained healthcare systems around the world.

Given these alarming trends, it’s crucial to integrate environmental considerations across all stages of healthcare. As an industry, we must lead by example, emphasising sustainability to mitigate our environmental impact and adapt to the changing health landscape driven by climate change.

How has the industry’s focus on this changed over the past decade?
Over the past decade, we have seen a significant global shift in our attitudes towards the environment, spurred by the urgent need to address the devastating impacts of global warming.

This shift is particularly evident in the healthcare sector, where we are seeing the shocking effects of the climate crisis on our health. According to our research conducted by Point.1, roughly two-thirds (62%) of healthcare professionals (HCPs) currently believe that the climate crisis is altering the landscape of the patients they treat and (66%) believe that the climate crisis is likely to change their approach to care in the future. This heightened awareness is translating into clinical decisions, with 41% of HCPs now considering environmental factors when prescribing and 52% more likely to prescribe a pharma product if they know it is environmentally friendly.

This growing awareness underscores a significant demand for our industry to intensify our sustainability efforts so that we can meet the evolving needs of HCPs and patients alike. While we are seeing incredible progress, there is still so much we can do.


What kind of sustainability and environmental initiatives are we currently seeing from the industry?
There are many ambitious initiatives in healthcare today. Standout organisations like Healthcare Without Harm and Eco Medics are leading efforts to reduce single-use items and cut carbon emissions in healthcare systems globally. Science-based targets (SBTs) accredit net zero plans to ensure they align with global warming limits, with 230 companies in pharma, biotech and life sciences having SBTs. Another key initiative is RE100, a collective for members committed to using 100% renewable electricity, with 24 members from biotech, healthcare and pharma, including AstraZeneca, Janssen and Novartis. Similarly, the Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI) aims to accelerate the delivery of net zero health systems, while the Royal College of General Practitioners has implemented the Green Impact for Healthcare Toolkit in over 1,500 general practices since 2014 to reduce their environmental footprint.

It’s inspiring to see so much positive action and change, and I’m excited to help drive the necessary changes across our industry.

What barriers exist to achieving the industry’s sustainability and environmental ambitions?
The path to sustainability in healthcare is fraught with significant challenges. As our white paper ‘Healing the healers’ outlined, the demanding nature of HCPs’ work often leads to burnout, making it difficult for them to engage in sustainability initiatives despite growing environmental consciousness. Many HCPs experience eco-anxiety and guilt over unsustainable practices, which hinders their participation in environmental efforts.

In the UK, sustainable healthcare education programmes are emerging that equip HCPs with the knowledge and skills for environmentally sustainable care. However, our research reveals there is a gap in patients’ understanding of climate change’s direct health impacts, highlighting the need for more patient-focused education.

Another critical barrier is the perceived lack of support from government bodies and pharmaceutical companies. Many HCPs feel the industry isn’t doing enough to address environmental challenges, leading to frustration.

What role do stakeholders, including governments and health authorities, play in driving forward progress?
Governments and health authorities play a crucial role in driving progress by implementing regulations that promote sustainable practices and supporting educational campaigns to raise awareness of climate-related health impacts.

In our industry, significant progress is being made as all aspects of healthcare evolve to meet ambitious global targets. Similarly, the advertising and creative industry is making great strides in measuring and mitigating emissions. But there is still more that can be done.

In summary, the gravity of the climate crisis demands collective action. Genuine collaborative efforts among stakeholders are essential to advancing sustainability ambitions. Through heightened awareness, education and a sincere commitment to emissions reduction, we can collectively address the climate crisis and its implications for global health.

Havas Lynx is a leading healthcare communications agency with a full-service global offering and almost 600 multidisciplinary specialists in Manchester, London and New York.

Take a look at Havas Lynx’s previous award-winning white paper campaigns here: Thought Leadership – Havas Lynx

The latest Havas Lynx thought leadership campaign, ‘Climate of Health’, will be launched in Q3. Follow Havas Lynx on LinkedIn for updates.

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This thought leadership piece appeared in the June edition of PME. Read the full issue here.


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