Carbon emissions and climate change are important environmental issues to tackle, but many people are unsure about what they can do to make a real difference. This may be particularly true in medical communications, where services and daily working practices have the potential to impact the environment. As concerns about the environment grow, it is becoming more important to identify sustainable solutions within the industry. This topic has been raised in recent weeks through a LinkedIn post from Blair Hesp (Kainic Medical Communications), while the #GreenMedComms movement (initiated by Peter Llewellyn, MedComms Networking) is gaining momentum. Last week, Sarah Sikora (Envision Pharma Group) led an engaging webinar entitled ‘Environmental sustainability in medical communications’, which will hopefully be the start of ongoing discussions within the industry.
It’s time to address the environmental elephant in the #medcomms room
Blair Hesp (Kainic Medical Communications)
In her recent webinar, Sikora highlighted a number of key areas within medical communications that have a potential impact on the environment. For example, many projects involve print and production processes such as exhibition booths, training materials, external communications and internal materials. In addition, there are considerations around people and workspace including office space, staff location and commuting, IT equipment, food and drink and stationery. Of course, travel is often considered an essential element of medical communications, with some travelling for multiple events each year. Although the days of travelling across the globe for a lunchtime meeting are long gone, the number of meetings that involve international travel is still high: there are face-to-face meetings with clients and healthcare professionals (HCPs), congresses, pharma-organised events and even internal agency meetings.
Before sustainable solutions can be implemented, Sikora noted there are a number of barriers to change that may need to be considered or overcome. For example, relationship-building between a medical communications agency and client, as well as pharma and HCPs, is critical; however, these relationships are often built face-to-face. In addition, scientific exchange relies on an international network of researchers and HCPs who collaborate, debate, discuss and drive research forward. Furthermore, many HCPs and pharma clients are not digital natives, and there may be some resistance to new technologies. There may also be a lack of motivation, or sense of urgency, to realise the impact our of actions and change. However, if potential barriers are overcome, the benefits of adopting more sustainable practices within the industry could be numerous. In addition to the more apparent benefits (for example, a lower carbon footprint through reduced travel), Sikora highlighted that these changes could reap additional rewards in areas including agency values, recruitment/retention and innovation/creativity.
But, how can the essential services provided by the medical communications industry be delivered in a more sustainable way? What direct actions can be taken to tackle environmental issues? Sikora provided some useful guidance in her webinar on the initial steps we might take, including:
- leading by example, starting with your own actions
- initiating the conversation with colleagues and agency management
- setting sustainability standards for vendors and suppliers.
In addition, Sikora highlighted the importance of partnerships between agencies and clients. For instance, it may be appropriate to have conversations to gauge opinions and understand any potential barriers. Another suggestion is to share industry-relevant articles with clients to drive conversations and innovation. We might also consider whether a project’s objectives can be met in a more sustainable way: virtual and digital offerings may be viable alternatives to reduce the environmental impact of travel and print items, for example. However, Sikora noted it’s important that sustainable alternatives to a ‘traditional’ offering should not result in compromise.
With regards to more practical measures, Hesp highlighted that his team has been offsetting all work-related travel for the last 12 months and they are becoming a Carbon Partner of the Native Forest Restoration Trust to offset carbon emissions more broadly. The Envision Pharma Group have also adopted a number of initiatives to reduce environmental impact, which include:
- reducing travel through uptake of video conferencing technology and virtual meeting platforms
- reducing the impact of print and production by using sustainable exhibitions, digital workshop materials and digital communications
- involving people and adapting the workspace through initiating action-focussed working groups, car sharing, a swap shop and provision of water bottles.
To keep the conversation moving, why not join the #GreenMedComms movement. Perhaps you could share what measures you are taking to reduce the environmental impact of your working practices and how you are adapting the services you offer.