In the universe are billions of galaxies, in our galaxy are billions of planets, but there is ‘Only One Earth.’
This was the theme of World Environment Day on June 5, and a sentiment shared by millions of people across the globe as they joined together to recognize the need to preserve and protect the planet.
For Una Kent, Walgreens Boots Alliance vice president, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) International, World Environment Day is an important moment to focus on our impact on the planet, but it is not just about one day.
“To reverse the damage that humanity has imposed on our planet, we need to be thinking about it every day, and at WBA, we are,” says Kent.
People and planet
As a global company with a purpose to create more joyful lives through better health, WBA has a responsibility to protect the environment, not only for the health of our planet but also for the health of the people it sustains. In a recent report published by The Lancet, climate change was acknowledged as the greatest global health threat of the 21st century.
“I think that manifests itself in several ways,” says Kent. “If you look at air quality, transmission of disease, natural disasters and other health emergencies, you can see there is a fundamental link between the health of our planet and the health of its people.
“It's no coincidence that Healthy Planet, Healthy Communities, Healthy & Inclusive Workplace and Sustainable Marketplace are the core pillars of our health-centered ESG approach,” continues Kent. “People, planet and communities … we have a responsibility to them all.”
Trailblazing the 'E' in ESG
Protecting the natural environment has been part of WBA’s DNA since the start, explains Kent.
“If you take a step back in time, the founders of Boots and Walgreens, John Boot and Charles R. Walgreen Sr., respectively, understood that the natural world could provide healthcare remedies and be a sustainable supply for the many—nature’s medicine cabinet,” says Kent. “You can see this philosophy projected in the environmental work WBA and its businesses carry out today. Reducing carbon, eliminating waste, selecting materials and ingredients mindfully, protecting the wellbeing of humans and animals throughout our supply chain—it is woven into our very fabric.”
'Only One Earth'
Kent was inspired to see Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations used as an opportunity to elevate important messages around protecting our environment on a global stage.
“It was amazing to hear both HRH Prince William and Sir David Attenborough take the opportunity to talk about the fragility of our planet and the need for action,” she says. “WBA is not coming late to this party; our environmental agenda was set many years ago, and for World Environment Day 2022, we have lots of exciting things happening across the company.”
This year’s theme focused on living in harmony with nature and climate and pollution action. Reflecting on the theme, Boots Ireland recognized a need for education and action on the safe disposal of medicines.
“Due to a lack of education around the topic, people are currently disposing of medicines by flushing them down the toilet or sink, which means chemicals end up polluting our waterways, effecting animal and plant life as well as our drinking water,” explains Kent.
The Boots Ireland campaign aims to tackle this issue, encouraging customers to return unwanted or out-of-date medicines to their local Boots store for safe disposal.
On opposite sides of the globe, two WBA businesses have focused on initiatives to save energy and cut carbon emissions.
In Thailand, Boots stores have switched to solution-LED lighting formats across key zones. Switching to LED has several benefits for the environment including reduced energy use, zero heat or UV emissions, and longer bulb lifespan.
In Mexico, 9,000 miles across the pacific, Farmacias Benavides is reducing energy consumption and emissions by replacing inefficient cool rooms with state-of-the-art refrigerators. The goal is to reduce pharmacy energy consumption by 20% in 159 pharmacies.
A buzziness update
“The list of exciting things we do to protect the environment is endless, but I have to mention our bees,” says Kent. “At our corporate offices in the U.S. we have been keeping bees since 2019, and in Ireland since 2021. This summer our UK Nottingham site is installing hives, too. This will mean that WBA will have more than half a million bees around the world.”
In addition to the important environmental impact we know bees have—one-third of all the food we eat depends on pollinators like bees—the hives are a great way for team members to get involved.
“So far, in the U.S., more than 200 team members have engaged in honeybee-related activities such as tours of the hive and the Fall Honey Harvest, where we jar the Walgreens honey,” says Kent.
In Germany, Alliance Healthcare Deutschland (AHD) and GEHE are converting more than 3,000 square meters of available green space into bee meadows. Learn more in the ‘Buzziness Update’ below.
Every day is World Environment Day
“At a global company like WBA, our work is never done,” says Kent. “We should be very proud of what we have achieved so far, but there is always more to do.”
Kent believes that with WBA’s strong focus on the environment, most team members will be involved in some way. “ESG is pervasive in our company, the very nature of what we do is to care for our communities and the environment.
“Take a team member working in a Walgreens store for example,” she continues. “They will have been involved in recent changes to how receipts are printed—a simple switch that saves 34,469 miles of paper, equating to 7,000+ trees. That is a huge saving not just of paper, but also ink, electricity and fuel.”
WBA’s businesses are always looking for ways to involve team members. In the UK, the Boots team hosted a pavilion for World Environment Day at their Nottingham office. Team members had the opportunity to engage with companies that support WBA in its recycling programs, as well as beekeepers, suppliers and other experts who help to achieve WBA’s ESG goals every day.
If team members want to become more knowledgeable about environmental action at WBA, they are encouraged to get involved in their local Environmental Sustainability Business Resource Group. The groups, run by team members, host events across topics such as the circular economy and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“I am most proud of the passion of all those involved,” says Kent. “We are led by our WBA CSR Committee and its chair Ornella Barra, whose unwavering commitment to the agenda really drives it forward. Our environmental work is so integral to WBA’s DNA that it has become a self-propelled mission for team members to protect the planet and its people. That’s amazing.“
For more information on WBA’s ESG healthcare-centered approach and initiatives, check out the latest WBA ESG Report.