Disruptive innovation for the health of our people and planet

24 June 2021 .

Written by Catherine Cummings, Sustainability and Public Affairs Director for Bupa Europe and Latin America.

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As Sustainability and Public Affairs Director for Bupa Europe and Latin America, it’s my job to think about the relationship between the environment and human health, and our impact on the environment as individuals and as a business. The choices we make and actions we take can have a positive or negative impact and shape the future of human health, planetary health and have implications for the success of businesses and the economy.

The events of the past eighteen months have taught us all some important lessons about the way we, as a species, interact with the natural world. It’s increasingly clear that we cannot ignore the link between the environment and our health – however well I eat, however much I exercise, however good the medical care I am able to access, my health is still at risk if I am exposed to toxins through the air I breathe, the water I drink or the food I eat or if climate change threatens my home, my livelihood and my community.

By protecting nature, we protect our health. Our relationship with the natural world is important for many and can help us in keeping physically and mentally well. Protecting natural habitats and biodiversity will also reduce our risk of infectious disease and protect our ability to treat diseases through drug and vaccine development where nature is critical for medical research.

When we spoke to our new CEO, Iñaki Ereño, about these issues, he challenged us to think harder about the link between climate change and biodiversity loss in particular and our health, and on what we, as an organisation and as individuals, could do to support solutions to these problems. From my perspective, it was empowering to see such commitment and focus coming from the very top.

This led us to define six challenge areas for our new programme, eco-Disruptive. These are:

  • climate change and CO2 reduction
  • sustainable transport and clean air
  • the circular economy and responsible consumption
  • biodiversity
  • healthy cities and citizens and
  • education and behaviour change

The first four are focused on what we as a business can do to reduce our negative impact on the environment, including adopting new low carbon ways of working and reducing employee or customer travel, reducing and eliminating waste and supporting nature-based solutions both within – or on top of - our own buildings, or in the communities around us, through rewilding.

The final two look outwards, focusing on what we can achieve, working with others, in the wider community and show how Bupa can take a greater role in advocating for the environment. Solutions might include, for example, finding innovative and effective ways to educate about the link between our health and the environment, and reach people to bring about positive action and lasting behavioural change. We know that our colleagues and customers want less waste, zero carbon and cleaner air; they want to live healthier lives, in healthier towns and cities; and they expect to see us taking a lead on this.

We are already setting goals on what we, as an organisation will achieve, against each of these challenges, for example how we can operate sustainably and reduce our footprint in line with climate science.

But the first stage in realising our commitment is eco-Disruptive. This will harness the agility and energy of start-ups developing solutions to our biggest social and environmental issues, alongside the structure and resources of Bupa, including access to our brightest and best emerging talent. I am confident that, in the interplay between our people and these start-ups, truly innovative ideas will emerge, that will allow us to become a better and more sustainable company.

Eco-Disruptive is much more than a talent programme. I have no doubt that ideas will emerge from this programme that will tangibly contribute to our sustainability ambitions and make a better world. Challenging as the last year has been on so many levels, it has shown us how creative, adaptable and resilient humans can be. We have all learned to do things differently and this gives me confidence that we can go on finding better ways to do business. All of which aligns with our purpose, helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives and making a better world.

I am tremendously excited about eco-Disruptive. I am sure you’ll all join me in wishing the participants in Madrid, Santiago, Manchester and Melbourne - every success. Please make sure you get involved in choosing the winning team – I know I will (although it will be tough to choose between them).


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