Placing Health at the Heart of Sustainability: Lessons from the Environment

By Gillian Christie & Derek Yach

In 2000, the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced the establishment of the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), a unique organization dedicated to collaborating with businesses across sectors to promote responsible practices. At the launch, Kofi Annan outlined nine guiding principles for responsible businesses that focused on human rights, labor standards, and the environment. Anti-corruption was added in 2004 to create the 10 principles of the UNGC.

Today, the UNGC uses its 10 principles to guide businesses in creating a sustainable and inclusive global economy. With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by world leaders in September 2015, opportunities exist for businesses to work with the UNGC to promote health and well-being as a precondition, outcome, and indicator of a sustainable society. In doing so, previous efforts from the environmental movement to promote health as a driver for sustainable development should be leveraged.

Environmentalists recognized early on the power of placing concrete metrics at the core of corporate disclosure on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) impacts. Reporting platforms, including the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, FTSE4Good Index Series, King Code of Governance (King III), and the UNGC, emerged as models for measuring and valuing sustainability. A majority of companies across sectors now measure and disclose their ESG impacts through integrated and sustainability reports.

Integrating health into corporate reporting platforms, including the UNGC, can promote a sustainable planet and healthy people through the full and inclusive participation of all sectors of society. Businesses play a central role in promoting health and well-being in the workplace, marketplace, and community, and can facilitate greater investments in health. Inclusion of health metrics can be used by financiers (investors and asset managers) focused on valuing profitable and enduring businesses, managers focused on doing well by doing good, and consumers (specifically millennials) focused on aligning their values with the businesses where they work and purchase goods.

In alignment with the UNGC’s Leaders Summit this week (June 22-23) in New York, Vitality hosted a breakfast at the United Nations to explore how lessons from ESG reporting can be applied to positioning health at the heart of sustainability. It featured the release of “Exploring Shared Value in Global Health and Safety: Workshop Summary” by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine as well as a discussion by thought leaders from business, finance, consumer groups, and academia. To learn more about Vitality’s work in this area, check out our recently released health metrics report and infographic.

How is your company reporting on its ESG impacts? Is it reporting on its effects on health and well-being? We are interested in hearing from you! Tweet at us @VitalityUSA, @swimdaily, or @gchristie34.


Image Credit: United Nations

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