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As a life sciences company, what does your CSO do?

As a life sciences company, what does your CSO do?

For anyone in the life sciences sector, particularly those at an up-and-coming biotech, CSO immediately translates to Chief Scientific Officer.

Those at a more established, larger-scale company, might instead lean towards Chief Strategy Officer, or Chief Security Officer.

But how many think of Chief Sustainability Officer?

As a global society we are facing an unprecedented wave of pressure to act more sustainably: this will require change driven by government and individuals, but also by companies. Research out today from our insights division Truth shows that, as consumers, we are looking to companies to bridge the gap between the impact we can have ourselves and the large-scale policy shifts that can be made nationally and internationally. But there is an issue of trust, with only 17% of the UK public confident that companies are taking sufficient steps to tackle climate change.

In the health and life sciences industries, how much attention should we be paying to these shifts in perception and expectation? After all, developing and bringing medicines to patients is an all-consuming challenge that is far from trivial itself. Delivering treatments, particularly for unmet medical needs, and ensuring that those can be accessed globally, can bring huge benefits to us all.

But is it enough to say that you’re saving lives, and stop there?

The carbon emission intensity of the pharma industry was recently estimated to be 55% higher than that of the automotive industry and, as a sector predicted to grow significantly, there is clearly an onus on everyone to consider how that growth can be achieved without a corresponding spike in emissions.

Many in the industry embraced the sustainability agenda long ago; certainly, these types of conversations have been going on for decades in some cases. What has changed in that time is the ability to effect change. Supply chains, for example, are hugely complex in all sectors and perhaps especially so in the manufacture of medicines. Even five years ago, the technologies to enable the levels of transparency and traceability we want to see, just weren’t available, but things are changing, and companies need to embrace that.

Of course, many of the top 15 pharma companies have already done extensive work around sustainability and, looking ahead, we are seeing major commitments to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2025. Beyond our sector, the promises are going even further, with Microsoft aiming for carbon negative by 2030 and to remove all of the carbon emitted “directly or by electrical consumption since our company’s founding in 1975” by 2050.

When interviewed, Pascal Soriot of AstraZeneca encapsulated the drivers of this change perfectly: “I have children and a grandson, and they’re going to look at me and say, ‘what did you do?’ And our employees also are asking us, expecting us to do something.”

We can’t look at consumer trends and think that those don’t affect us in the life sciences sector. Those consumers are patients, employees, shareholders, and members of our families. More than that, whilst a level of guilt as motivation is not a bad thing, there is also need for everyone to take responsibility, both individually and collectively.

The statements by Mr Soriot also point to one of the key ways that meaningful change will happen, and that is the power of the CEO to lead from the front.

Consider Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock, the largest money-management firm in the world with more than $6.5 trillion in assets under management. Following on from his annual letter to CEOs in 2018 on how companies must have a social purpose and pursue a strategy for achieving long-term growth, Fink upped the stakes in this year’s letter, saying that Blackrock will be “increasingly disposed to vote against management and board directors when companies are not making sufficient progress on sustainability-related disclosures and the business practices and plans underlying them.”

Undoubtedly Fink’s individual sense of purpose in instigating change has been a key driver for his business.

In 2020 we are going to see increasing expectations for well thought-out, detailed and comprehensive answers to questions from all stakeholders about how companies are tackling climate change and other areas of sustainability.

If you aren’t yet thinking holistically about your impact as a business, then perhaps your next hire should be a(nother) CSO?

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