Health and sustainability go hand-in-hand – lessons from Novartis

There’s growing evidence that we can achieve economic and global health progress while cutting greenhouse gas emissions

Published: 31 Oct 2018
Author: Karen Coyne
Type: Insight

The world’s leading scientific experts on climate change have just released a report on how to protect civilization by limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). The stakes are incredibly high. As the report’s authors from the UN-appointed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) point out, passing the critical 1.5-degree threshold would mean flooded coastal cities, food shortages, wildfires, critical damage to the world’s ocean ecosystems and even new risks to human health related to air quality and mosquito-borne diseases. It’s a line we can’t afford to cross.

Looking to the new report, one thing is clear: we need to not only reduce carbon emissions across the world, but ultimately remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. And, of course, we have to do all of this while growing the global economy and making progress toward global health and poverty elimination. Governments plainly have a role to play, yet a great deal of the hard work ahead falls also on individuals, communities, and businesses. It’s become an all hands-on-deck moment.

Despite these challenges, there is cause for hope. We’ve seen in our company, Novartis, that it’s possible to cut carbon emissions while still boosting business and producing more medicines. We believe this kind of progress is possible across society. The fight to address climate change can succeed alongside efforts to strengthen economies and bolster global health. There shouldn’t be a tradeoff between climate responsibility and growth because cutting pollution can advance a business’s core objectives—in our case, the work of developing and distributing medicines.

Still as the recent IPCC report demonstrates, it’s not sufficient to cut our contributions to the emissions problem. It’s necessary to become an active part of the solution, changing tomorrow through our actions today.

For Novartis, this means holding ourselves accountable to even more ambitious targets and becoming a better steward of natural resources.

In May 2018, the Executive Committee of Novartis officially endorsed a new Environmental Sustainability Strategy.

Our aspiration is to become carbon-neutral, plastic-neutral and water-sustainable. Specifically, by 2025, our targets include using only renewable energy and being carbon-neutral in our own operations; cutting waste in half; eliminating PVC in our product packaging; cutting water consumption by half; and having no water quality impacts from our manufacturing nor from our suppliers. By 2030, we’re committing to cutting our carbon footprint (including our supply chain) in half, becoming plastic-neutral and water-neutral in all our operations worldwide, and meeting sustainable design principles for all our new medicines and products.

While we’re focusing heavily on internal goals and metrics to guide our own work on sustainability, we’re also focused, as a global health organization, on meeting the broader Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Good health requires a clean environment and a stable climate. To achieve our company’s core purpose—to improve and extend people’s lives—we have to think holistically about reducing waste, boosting innovation, and supporting the kinds of environments where human beings can thrive.

We see all of our diverse work to achieve SDG 3 (ensuring good health and well-being) as inextricably interwoven with the work of SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) and SDG 13 (addressing climate change).  Perhaps most importantly, the only way we can be successful on this challenging journey is through partnership (SDG 17). That’s why we’re firmly committed to working with governments, international organizations, firms across sectors and all levels of civil society to achieve the SDGs.

There are serious challenges to meeting these objectives.  Because 80% of our carbon emissions come from our supply chain rather than in-house operations, partnerships are essential.  We have important work to do in determining how we approach our new targets, but also in measuring how supply chain operations—from manufacturing to packaging to logistics—contribute to carbon emissions.  Across operations, we’re working on a diverse range of solutions including procurement of renewable energy, new efficient production methods, electrification of vehicle fleets and new carbon offsets to get us to our destination.

This isn’t only altruism.  We believe it’s also good business.

Improving environmental performance is a way of creating new shareholder value for our company through increased efficiencies and cost savings.  This work also boosts our long-term resilience by potentially reducing future costs from carbon pricing and other regulatory pressures.  Ultimately, it helps our company attract talent, drive innovation and strengthen competitiveness by establishing a reputation as a purpose and values-driven organization.

We want to be a catalyst for positive change everywhere we work—driving sustainability through our own operations, and empowering and inspiring partners across the world to demonstrate that businesses can be some of the most innovative, productive and responsible stewards of the environment.

written by: Karen Coyne, Global Head of Environment at Novartis

Image from: Novartis

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