Sustainability offers competitive edge, healthcare execs say

Sustainability offers major healthcare players a competitive edge, according to a new report.

Research and development has traditionally been the engine of innovation in the healthcare sector, but a new report indicates that sustainability is doing its part, too.

A blockbuster drug remains the feel good hit of the summer for most health companies, but a focus on sustainability is helping firms gain a competitive edge, according to OgilvyEarth.

A public relations firm is traditionally a dubious source for objective information, and that holds true here. The agency interviewed executives at Johnson and Johnson, Bayer, Eli Lilly and Roche -- all clients of the agency -- to find out more about how sustainability affected their businesses.

Nevertheless, some interesting anecdotes surfaced that speak to the greater point.

For example, at Johnson and Johnson, physicians reacted negatively to the large, single-use Styrofoam cooler the company used to ship samples of the drug Simponi, which is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. The company went back to the drawing board and came up with a reusable shipper with "bio-based" insulation packs, reducing the container's bulk as well as its environmental impact without harming the product it's supposed to carry. For J&J, it was a supply chain decision as well as a matter of reputation.

Similarly, Baxter developed "Flexbumin," a flexible plastic replacement for the sturdy but fragile glass vial. The company says it takes up 60 percent less space on shelves, weighs 40 percent less and reduces waste, since glass produces more environmental waste than plastic, according to the company.

The report (.pdf) exists for self-promotion but it's a valid reminder that healthcare companies are very much in the global shipping business, and have strong business reasons to reduce their carbon footprint as they move product all over the globe. Moreover, sustainability is clearly becoming so pervasive that a lack of compliance could affect a brand's reputation in the eyes of its medical clients -- serious business for a company that relies so strongly on personal relationships.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com