Climate change is one of the biggest global health threats of the 21st century, according to a report by the Lancet/UCL Commission on Health and Climate Change (1).
As climate change alters environmental conditions, the prevalence and global distribution of human diseases are changing, new disease threats are emerging, substantially higher pharmaceutical/medical device use appears inevitable. This brings both challenges and opportunities for many healthcare companies.
How could these companies help people address the increasing health threats caused by climate change without further damaging the environment? I would like to use Johnson & Johnson (J&J), the company I worked for six years before, as an example to explain.
1. Climate change is impacting global human health
According to the WHO’s reports on the potential impacts of climate change on public health (2), some adverse impacts climate change has on human health may include:
- More frequent extreme heat waves and associated air quality issues contribute to and exacerbate cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
- Floods, droughts, and contaminated water raise the risk of diarrhoeal disease.
- Changes in temperature, rainfall, humidity, flooding and other climatic conditions create an opportunity for the spread of vector-borne infectious diseases such as malaria.
2. Why it matters to Pharmaceutical and Medical Device companies?
Pharmaceutical and medical device companies are large energy consumers and major emitters, while they are also positioned as the front line of the response to these threats (4). This arouses both operation challenges and business opportunities.
2.1 Operation challenge: Reducing carbon footprint.
The carbon footprint of healthcare companies is huge. In the UK, for example, around 20% of the NHS’s carbon footprint is related to pharmaceutical products (according to a 2013 report by the NHS Sustainable Development Unit). At the same time, the risk to the environment of pharmaceutically active by-products excreted by patients is largely unknown. (5)
This raises new challenges for J&J’s business operation. The company needs to consider how to reduce carbon footprint and waste during its business expansion.
2.2 Business opportunities: tackling the health impacts of climate change
Governments and healthcare companies are the front lines of the response to health threats caused by climate change. They need to look into improving access to effective treatments for diseases and conditions that are likely to be exacerbated by climate change, especially in developing world – for example, Southeast Asia and Africa.
J&J, as a leading company in pharmaceutical and medical device sector, thus has the obligation to tackle the health impacts of climate change, mitigating the consequences of climate change on the health of the world’s population.
3. J&J’s actions to deal with climate change
3.1 Build a sustainable health system, develop “Green product”
A sustainable health and care system works within the available environmental and social resources protecting and improving health now and for future generations. This means working to reduce carbon emissions, minimizing waste and pollution, making the best use of scarce resources, building resilience to a changing climate and nurturing community strengths and assets.
Earthwards® is the Johnson & Johnson approach for developing innovative and more sustainable products. This approach defines how they think about product life cycles—includes considering opportunities to apply green chemistry principles, improve the sustainability of our packaging, and reducing end-of-product-life impacts through recycling and reprocessing of used equipment.
Within five years of launching Earthwards®, J&J made significant improvements on 80 products in 2015. The improvements from product and selected products can be seen in the following graph (6).
3.2 Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
The company took actions in many areas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including reducing CO2 emissions, using renewable energy in production, building green buildings, and also reducing shipping-related CO2 Emissions to minimize transportation impact on environment.
In J&J’s 2015 annual sustainability report, the company mentioned that they realized a 9.8 percent absolute reduction in facility CO2 vs. 2010 baseline, increased on-site clean- technology energy capacity to 54 MWs, and realized 20 percent improvement in vehicle emissions efficiency (7)
4. Move Forward
Based on the analysis above, I think climate change brings both operation challenges and business opportunities for J&J. The company has realized the great impact that climate change generates on the industry and the company, and has already taken many actions to build a more sustainable and environment-friendly operation model. In the future, I think the company should continue reducing emissions from facilities, R&D, manufacturing and transportation, while at the same time, I believe the company has the obligation to stimulate the innovation and R&D to respond to health threats caused by climate change, through collaborations with government and other pharmaceutical/medical device companies within industry.
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(1) The Lancet: Managing the Health effects of Climate Change, http://www.thelancet.com/commissions/climate-change
(2) WHO: Climate change and health, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs266/en/
(3) Impact of Climate Change on Human Health https://toolkit.climate.gov/image/505
(4) How can the pharma industry fight climate change, http://www.pharmaceutical-technology.com/features/featurehow-can-the-pharma-industry-fight-climate-change-4814240/
(5) Time to act: pharmacists must be prepared for environmental changes, http://www.pharmaceutical-journal.com/opinion/time-to-act-pharmacists-must-be-prepared-for-environmental-changes/11138390.article
(6) (7) Johnson & Johnson 2015 Citizenship & Sustainable Report, http://www.jnj.com/sites/default/files/pdf/cs/2015-JNJ-Citizenship-Sustainability-Report.pdf