Senior leaders, partners, customers, industry experts, suppliers, and team members came together virtually from around the world for a special Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) event on March 9 to celebrate the release of its annual Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Report, and highlight the innovative ways WBA is making a difference on the health of our communities and our planet in the last year.
Hosted by Alethia Jackson, WBA senior vice president of ESG and chief DEI officer for the U.S., and Una Kent, WBA vice president of ESG and DEI international, the event underscored the significant impact of the company’s efforts to responsibly serve the needs of our communities and planet, and create greater access to care, improving health outcomes and driving health equity.
Here are six key takeaways from the event:
1. WBA is leading the way in accountability and sustainability, and that positive impact is being felt in communities around the world.
Ornella Barra, WBA chief operating officer, international, and ESG committee chair, delivered opening remarks that featured the company’s successes in giving back to our communities, with a cumulative fiscal year 2022 total of $100 million donated, a 21.2% reduction in global carbon emissions, and a 204 metric ton savings of plastic.
Barra noted WBA’s ESG approach is designed around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) framework of the United Nations, with WBA among the first to embrace those goals after their publication in 2015. Among the 17 SDG’s, she emphasized “Partnership for the goals,” which aligns with one of WBA’s key values of partnership. “When it comes to our global ESG efforts, collaboration with our partners and stakeholders is key,” she says.
2. An embedded ESG strategy in an organization’s business strategy is critical to success.
WBA CEO Roz Brewer, in conversation with Jackson and Kent, emphasized the importance of integrating a company’s ESG strategy with its business strategy. For WBA, this is especially important in its transformation to a healthcare company, especially for customers, patients and team members, all of whom demand transparency.
Brewer says having an ESG strategy that is integrated and in lock step with business strategy provides something to stand behind that is important to defining who WBA is as a company. She pointed to work during the COVID pandemic that continues to inform our work with health equity, and current initiatives like streamlining HIV antiviral distribution that have provided deeper insights into what underserved communities need, while underscoring the importance of the relationships our pharmacists have with patients and customers.
3. Building partnerships and developing relationships are key to making progress toward health equity.
The first ESG pillar, Healthy Communities, begins locally, so it must be nurtured in communities and regions by building partnerships and developing relationships, says Georgia Lehoczky, Walgreens regional healthcare director for South Florida and Puerto Rico, and Shauna Markes-Wilson, director of pharmacy and retail operations for Walgreens region 28 in Georgia and Florida.
The combination of Walgreens scale with strong local partners has proven an incredible formula to addressing health inequality, vaccine hesitancy, and chronic conditions, according to Lehoczky. Working with community-based organizations—outside the walls of our retail pharmacies—to interact with patients where they live has been a successful strategy to reach the people who need health services the most.
According to Markes-Wilson, this strategy works because of the trust pharmacists and technicians have built within their communities. “We know trust is a critical component of health equity, so it matters where the data comes from and who’s delivering it,” she says. “Because many of our pharmacists and technicians live and work in the communities they serve, and look like the communities we’re trying to reach, they are seen as highly trustworthy sources of health information among their community members. That combination is a catalyst for success, and puts communities that need our services within reach,” she says.
4. Key stakeholders expect sustainability to a core element of an organization’s strategy.
For people to be healthy, we need a Healthy Planet, so sustainability needs to be a core element of an organization's strategy, says Amy Brachio, global deputy vice chair, sustainability at EY, in conversation with Walgreens director of ESG Lauren Stone. Global initiatives to reduce environmental impact and lessen the effects of day-to-day business are not only better for the planet, they are also good for business and generate significant value.
Brachio listed three key groups that sustainability resonates with: investors, employees and customers. The investor community is increasingly looking for reassurance on sustainability and brand protection. For employees, people want to work for companies that have strong sustainability strategies, particularly since those companies have 55% better employee morale and 38% better employee loyalty. And customers also have ambitious sustainability expectations, with 86% of them more likely to trust a company that reports its sustainability results, and 80% wanting to purchase goods that reflect strong corporate social responsibility over those that don’t.
Ultimately, Brachio says, there is a strong connection between a healthier planet and driving sustainability that helps people live healthier lives. “It's hard to imagine how you live a joyful life if you don't have access to clean air and water, and access to food,” she says.
5. Misconceptions surrounding the topic of disability are often an incomplete picture drawn from people’s own experiences.
Holly May, WBA EVP and global chief human resources officer, and Joe Riddle, director of Neurodiversity in the Workplace, discussed the importance of WBA’s third ESG pillar, Healthy and Inclusive Workplace, emphasizing the creation of a workplace that is welcoming, inclusive and representative of the global communities we serve, which is illustrated by the company’s commitment to disability hiring and inclusion.
Riddle countered a series of myths and misconceptions about hiring people with disabilities, pointing out that one-in-four U.S. adults have a disability, and that companies that focus on disability inclusion with supporting initiatives perform better, with 28% higher revenue and 30% higher profits than companies that don’t. Additionally, most accommodations that help people with disabilities to succeed have little to no cost. If we can give people access to those tools, Riddle says, we can enable them to do their best, while creating a larger talent pool.
6. Transparency is critical to bringing products and services to market in a way that’s honest, safe, and sustainable.
From sourcing to packaging, we strive for transparency in our supply chains and in those of our partners to deliver brands that our customers can truly trust, says John Kallend, WBA’s SVP of global partnerships, who spoke with Kris Licht, president of health and global chief customer officer at Reckitt, a WBA global supplier, about WBA’s fourth ESG pillar, Sustainable Marketplace.
Much of the impact we can have lays not just within the four walls of our plants and warehouses, but also out in the world helping consumers use products smarter, better and in a more sustainable way. “We have to ask ourselves questions,” says Licht. “What is the footprint we have as businesses and as employers? What is the environmental footprint of our brands, and what happens after the sale of a product?” Asking these questions allows for the optimization of product formulations and designing products and packaging to improve the sustainability footprint of the product portfolio.