SDG3: How to build a healthy business

clock • 4 min read

Five lessons for businesses looking to embed SDG3 into their operations

Targets under SDG3 cover a wide range of health issues, ranging from drug addiction and maternal mortality to cancer and mental illness. Any business looking at how best to engage with these could be easily be overwhelmed.

But experts agree the best place to start is by identifying the areas where your business can have an influence. The private sector can have a huge influence on health, not just of their employees, but also the impacts of their products and services on their customers and supply chain.

BusinessGreen caught up with leading thinkers on the topic for their advice on how business can make the world a healthier place.


1. Understand your data

"A starting point for a business to understand where it might be able to have a substantive impact on health is to look at what the major health burden is in the area where they're operating," says Will Evison, director at consultancy PWC.

He points to, run by the Washington-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, as a valuable resource for businesses, allowing them to compare data for illnesses and non-communicable diseases in different countries, and according to gender and age.

"This is a key tool in starting to understand the scale of the burden you're trying to address," he says.

Businesses should consider health data both in countries they operate in, and those they sell to, he adds. Customer demographics are also important, for example, whether they are well-off or not.


2. Think holistically

The entire footprint of the company, including operations, employees and the supply chain, needs to be taken into account in a health strategy, Evison says. Businesses can then look at what opportunities their company has to influence some of those health burdens, taking into account its structure and capabilities, he adds.

Charlotte Ersbøll, senior advisor to the UN Global Compact on SDG3, says companies can use a similar framework for thinking about health as they do for climate change, for example, in a greenhouse gas scoping model.

"Start with where you have a direct impact. For health, no matter what sector you are in, this will always be employees," she notes.

More indirect health impacts are likely to be found in the supply chain, particularly for food and drink companies, and those in the textile industry.

"It's about understanding all the touchpoints in your business and value chain, and what kind of impact you might be having on health of employees, the community where you conduct business, and your supply chain. Then look at how you can take action and how you can start building that into your strategy and behaviours," she says.


3. Retrofit, then extend

Elisabeth Lincoln, sustainability manager at Business in the Community (BitC), says that since many of the objectives of the SDGs match those that businesses have been already working on, retrofitting existing initiatives around the global goals is a good place to start.

"You can start by retrofitting, then redesign them so that they are more cutting edge and looking at the innovation area of the SDGs," she says.

Emily Auckland, director and co-chair of the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD) Network, says business engagement on SDGs needs to both scale up existing projects, and identify new ones: "It's very much about aligning things with operations that are already happening. But it [also] needs to be much more about new initiatives," she says.


4. Supercharge internal communications

In order to successfully communicate an SDG3 initiative to staff, businesses need to make it relevant to their lives, according to Amanda Powell-Smith, chief executive of Forster Communications.

"Employees are not going to take part in an initiative because it's an SDG. The reason they'll get involved because it's relevant and of benefit to their life," she says.

She gives the example of a company where there had been a number of accidents due to staff not wearing protective gloves. The company had found top-down communications telling people to wear gloves because it was company policy were unsuccessful.

Instead, Forster Communications devised an awareness campaign around images of how staff might use their hands in everyday life, such as playing rugby, cooking dinner or holding a baby. This succeeded in more employees wearing their protective gear, reducing accidents, she reports.


5. Beware 'initiative overload'

Health problems cannot be solved overnight. Strategies therefore need to balance short-term milestones with longer-term goals, and avoid trying to do too much at once, says Powell-Smith.

"We've seen quite a lot of organisations going into initiative overload with a number of things they're doing. It becomes a wallpaper that employees ignore," she says.

A strategy needs to be joined-up and logical, and build up over time, she says. However, this needs to be balanced with having key milestones to keep an initiative alive in order to encourage change among people who are not early adopters.

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