It is now almost two years since the first cases of COVID-19 were recorded in late 2019. The resulting pandemic and tragic consequences experienced by communities all over the world have brought the issues of health and healthcare to the forefront of the global political and economic agenda in a way rarely seen before.
COVID-19 has provided a sharp reminder of the critical importance of health and wellbeing as the bedrock for prosperous societies and economies around the world. It has also prompted much reflection on what can be done to promote and protect health more robustly and equitably moving forward, and to help us realize many of the ambitions laid out in Sustainable Development Goal 3: Good Health and Wellbeing.
I recently got back from COP26. Among the huge-range of climate challenges that were being discussed, work was also being done to recognize the climate and nature crises that we face as also being a health crisis for current and future generations. To discuss this and WBCSD’s Vision 2050 Health & Wellbeing pathway, I sat down with James Gomme, Director People & Society at WBCSD.
James – tell me a bit about the Health & Wellbeing challenges we face as global societies.
Even before the pandemic, the world was falling critically short of many of the SDG’s health-related targets. We were not on track to deliver universal health coverage, to end epidemics such as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, and to reduce premature mortality from non-communicable diseases by 2030. COVID-19 has thrown progress further off track. Over 5 million people have now lost their lives to COVID-19, while the physical and mental health impacts of the pandemic also look set to have devastating consequences.
Meanwhile, other, potentially even more devastating health crises lurk on the horizon. Environmental disruptions such as the climate emergency and nature loss, are compounding health concerns and threaten to overwhelm our healthcare systems in the long-term. Over two thirds of the global health workforce signed an open letter ahead of COP26 calling for national leaders and country delegations to step up climate action and avert an impending health catastrophe, and, ahead of the just concluded COP26, the World Health Organisation published a Special Report on Climate Change and Health.
So, what can business do to promote better health and wellbeing across the world?
It’s critical for the global business community to play its part in developing and driving solutions in support of health promotion and disease prevention across a wide range of dimensions. The business case for doing so is undeniable. By recognizing and working to improve their impacts on health and wellbeing among their own employees and across global value chains, businesses can help to foster and benefit from a more robust economy and marketplace, a healthier, happier and more productive workforce, and more resilient supply chains.
Can you tell me about how WBCSD’s Vision 2050 can support companies driving these changes?
Health sits at the heart of WBCSD’s Vision 2050: Time to Transform – our framework for business action, developed in collaboration with 40 companies, that offers companies comprehensive guidance on how they can lead the transformations needed to bring about a world in which 9+ billion people can live well, within planetary boundaries, by 2050. One of Vision 2050’s nine transformation pathways focuses specifically on Health & Wellbeing. The pathway envisions a world in which the “the highest attainable standard of health & wellbeing for everyone”, and where:
- People live healthy lives.
- Health is promoted and protected.
- Everyone has access to robust resilient & sustainable healthcare services.
- Workplaces promote wellbeing.
Achieving this vision will demand that we make progress as global societies across a set of transitions including: evolving products and services to promote healthy lifestyles; promoting health literacy and restoring trust in science; investing in capacity to prevent the emergence and spread of communicable diseases; working to ensure universal access to healthcare; embracing new healthcare technologies responsibly; protecting and promoting worker health and wellbeing throughout operations and supply chains; and finally, recognizing the climate and nature crises as the health crises that they are and taking action to address them accordingly.
And, can you tell me what WBCSD is doing to help business put this into practice?
The Health & Wellbeing pathway further outlines 10 priority action areas for business to focus on over the course of the next decade, both to significantly accelerate the pace and scale of change, as well as to support the achievement of the SDGs. These action areas span innovative products, services, technologies and business models, as well as ways that companies can help create the right enabling conditions for change. They are not exhaustive but cover the most urgent and important priorities in the crucial decade ahead. Vision 2050’s 10 business action areas for the Health & Wellbeing pathway are:
- Innovate and re-balance product portfolios to support healthy diets and lifestyles, while moving away from addictive and harmful offerings.
- Influence consumer behavior towards more healthy diets and lifestyles via marketing activities, information campaigns and collaborative education platforms. Refrain from marketing harmful products.
- Scale business models to address indoor and outdoor air pollution, particularly in highly industrialized and densely populated urban environments.
- Implement programs that ensure the highest standards of health, safety and wellbeing for employees throughout global operations and value chains, while expanding access to basic preventive services at places of employment.
- Support efforts to safeguard biodiversity and eradicate the conversion of wildlife habitats to prevent the future spread of zoonotic diseases.
- Collaborate with governments and inter-governmental organizations to invest in systems that build international health system resilience to respond to pandemics and other health risks.
- Collaborate with policymakers to establish clear standards and guidelines to uphold data privacy in the context of an evolving digital healthcare system.
- Develop new technologies that enhance capacity to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases, with a focus on ensuring access to healthcare in low- and middle-income markets.
- Collaborate with governments and other stakeholders to eradicate anti-microbial resistance due to the misuse of antibiotic treatments and invest in new antibiotics to ensure their continued effectiveness in treating infection.
- Fundamentally reshape perceptions of the boundaries of the healthcare system, underlining the importance of healthy lifestyles and cross sector collaboration. Work to understand and account for the true value of health-related externalities.
WBCSD member companies have formed a cross-sectoral coalition to drive progress on the agenda laid out in Vision 2050’s Health & Wellbeing pathway, focusing on stakeholders including corporate employees and vulnerable populations around the world. In April 2021, over 20 companies came together to launch a new “Healthy People, Healthy Business” project to support the global business community in realizing its full potential to pave the way towards universal access to the highest possible standards of physical health and mental wellbeing.
The COVID-19 pandemic, although tragic, has presented businesses all over the world with an important inflection point to explore in more depth how they are interacting both negatively and positively with the health of their employees, customers and communities. I’m excited to see how WBCSD’s Healthy People, Healthy Business project will advance this agenda as it supports companies on this journey and we of course welcome the opportunity for continued stakeholder engagement around this critical topic. Health, after all, is everyone’s business.
VISION 2050 INSIGHT SERIES
This article is part of an ongoing insight series into WBCSD’s Vision 2050: Time to Transform.
- Introduction: Julian Hill-Landolt, Director, Vision 2050, introduces the Vision 2050: Time to Transform insight series and provides an overview of the topics that will be covered.
- Living Well: Filippo Veglio, Managing Director, People & Society, takes a deeper look at what it means to “live well” – a world in which everyone’s dignity and rights are respected, basic needs are met, and equal opportunities are available for all.
- Living within Planetary Boundaries: Diane Holdorf, Managing Director of the Food & Nature Program, and Claire O’Neill, Managing Director of the Climate & Energy Program, take a deeper look at what it means to “live within planetary boundaries”.
- We can provide healthy diets for all: Diane Holdorf, Managing Director of the Food & Nature Program, explores Vision 2050’s Food pathway.
- We can connect people: Constant van Aerschot, Director WBCSD Asia Pacific, talks with Fujitsu’s Mel Melis about Vision 2050’s Connectivity pathway.
- We can keep the water flowing: Joe Phelan, Director WBCSD India, provides an overview of our Water & Sanitation pathway and reflects on its importance in India.
- We can keep on moving, smarter: Wei Dong Zhou, Director WBCSD China, interviews WBCSD’s Director Mobility Thomas Deloison about Vision 2050’s Transportation & Mobility pathway.
- We can make things, smarter: Federico Merlo, Managing Director Member Relations and Circular Economy, digs into the Products & Materials pathway and WBCSD’s work in this space.
- We can make the world feel at home: Bill Sisson, Executive Director, WBCSD North America, will offer a deeper look into Vision 2050’s Living Spaces pathway.
- We can all invest in our future: Dr Rodney Irwin, COO, WBCSD, explores Vision 2050 Financial Products & Services pathway.
- We can power a net-zero world: Claire O’Neill, Managing Director, Climate & Energy, WBCSD, highlights the transformations that the energy system will go though in the Energy pathway.