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Our Insights 9 Jan 2019

The Future We Need: Working Together for Health and Sustainability

By Denise Delaney

This piece was originally published in the autumn issue of Radar Magazine, Connecting People and Planet: A Broader View of Health.

“Any take on sustainability that doesn’t have health and social care close to its heart probably isn’t worth worrying about any further” – Jonathan Porritt in the New Statesman.

Health is a most basic and essential asset not limited to any single agenda, let alone the world of corporate sustainability. And, wow, does it matter to our agenda: Good health can drive prosperity, wellbeing, enhanced livelihoods, economic development, and equality.

Poor health limits opportunities and prevents the living of a full and rewarding life.

You don’t need to know that it was estimated that over the period 2011-2015, the cumulative lost output in developing countries associated with the four major NCDs was more than USD 7 trillion (WHO). You only need to have ever felt unwell, even just a little, once.

We depend on improving health to continue and extend prosperity and ensure future global progress. Margaret Chan, then Director-General of the WHO, wrote in 2016 on the introduction of the Sustainable Development Goals (the Global Goals) that, compared to the era of the Millennium Development Goals, “The factors that now govern the well-being of the human condition, and the planet that sustains it, are no longer so discrete” (WHO). Universal health coverage can help reduce inequality. Health drives inclusive growth. Goal 3 on health and wellbeing, often seen as one for the pharmaceutical companies to tackle, is one where every company can contribute.

Global health professor and data visualisation extraordinaire Hans Rosling – through his many addresses like this TED talk and in his well-known book, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World and Why Things Are Better Than You Think  – tirelessly showed, we have made huge health and economic progress, despite our tendency to think the world is getting worse.

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Health is a most basic and essential asset not limited to any single agenda, let alone the world of corporate sustainability.

Yet, we can never be complacent. “Making the future the cause of the present” is, in a nutshell, what we occupy ourselves with at SustainAbility. The future is at once a scary place, and a place of such immense potential, especially when we think about health. We know pathogens are developing resistance quicker than we can change our behaviour or develop new solutions. Climate change is poised to change disease vectors, and the air we breathe has already been significantly impacted by polluted air. Our diets and lifestyles have given rise to a new beast, non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Yet, almost daily you can find major advances in treatments, from gene editing to personalised cancer drugs, and sometimes breakthroughs in our understanding of prevention, vaccines, and even still the underlying workings of disease. The future is here, now.

At SustainAbility, we are proud of our deep experience in and a sophisticated understanding of health, related industries and the key stakeholders, challenges and opportunities therein. They will have a bearing on our future individual and collective health. So will you. How will companies, which may not be squarely in the health sector or think of themselves that way, think about health in their approaches to sustainability? Every company can start with their own employees.

In the spirit of ‘one health’ we must work together, across disciplines and borders, and across human health, animal health and environmental health. We remain committed to working in, on and for health. Join us.

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Radar 18

Connecting People and Planet: A Broader View of Health

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