As a follow-up to our recent story on Novo Nordisk’s annual sustainability report, we had the opportunity to chat with Susanne Stormer, Novo’s VP of corporate sustainability. Susanne was in Washington last week to attend the Partnering for a Healthier America summit, which featured Michelle Obama as keynote speaker.
TriplePundit: Can you give us an overview of what you’ll be addressing at the conference?
Susanne Stormer: While the conference is primarily focused on the U.S., I will speaking about our experience in community engagement in Denmark and elsewhere. The conference has a strong focus on childhood obesity, which is a topic that is very close to our hearts.
3p: In your sustainability report, you specifically address the linkage between cities and the rise of diabetes. Is this a widely accepted view in the field, or is this something that Novo-Nordisk is taking a lead on?
SS: We have come across this through several of our initiatives. You see people moving to cities for economic opportunity and to be a part of what is happening, but at the same time we see statistics showing that their health tends to suffer as a result. For us, it’s really the epitome of the challenges of sustainable development. We would like to see economic growth, of course, but if it comes at a cost to people’s health, it’s a dilemma. So, we have started addressing what we call ‘urban diabetes,’ and I believe we are the first to try and tackle it.
3p: So, how do you go about tackling urban diabetes?
SS: It requires a systemic approach. You have to look at how the city is designed. You have to look at habits around eating, exercise, leisure activities — it’s all taking us in the wrong direction. So, we’re beginning to ask questions about how you can design cities that are conducive to people’s health. Clearly we’re not the ones who can provide these answers: We need designers; we need architects; we need transportation infrastructure. We need all these players to come together to each bring their piece of the puzzle so that we can get it right …
… Our business is to treat diabetes, but we’re also here to try and prevent diabetes and ultimately to find a cure for it. Right now, prevention is the next big step, which comes in the promotion of healthy lifestyles.
3p: Can you talk about some areas where you are doing this?
SS: We’ve been advocating for this in our Cities Changing Diabetes initiative, in connection with the U.N. Sustainable Development goals, and in conjunction with the Climate Summit. We’ve been talking about the fact that both climate change and the diabetes pandemic share the same root causes, which is the unsustainable lifestyle. So, addressing one will help the other.
3p: Have you been actively promoting a healthier lifestyle in cities?
SS: Yes. We start inside with a program called NovoHealth, which is our employee wellness program. In it we promote standards for a healthy workplace. It includes things like healthy foods, smoke-free environment, access to exercise and a periodic health check. What we have seen, tracking this, is that it has been motivational.
3p: So you start from within. Then what?
SS: There is a new program we recently started in Malaysia. This is a place that is recognized to be on the verge of a diabetes pandemic. Projections show that 1 in 4 people there is likely to have diabetes. We had some ideas based on scientific research that says the first 1,000 days of a person’s life determine, to a large degree, a person’s future health. That means intervening very early could make a huge difference in that trajectory. So, we are working with the government there to identify young couples that are about to start a family and will then be motivated to embrace healthier lifestyles. This will be a controlled study and we hope to see an impact.
3p: It sounds like your approach to community engagement is a little different.
SS: We’re trying to look at communities in a more systemic way. We’ve developed a model that includes many factors such as work, employment, pollution, social dimensions of the community, and seeing how they interact, seeing what the challenges are, and working with local partners to address those issues.
3p: Could you give me an example?
SS: There is a community in Denmark called Kalundborg where we have a production site. We depend on that community and that community depends on us. We want to ensure that this community is an attractive place for well-educated people to live. But it turns out that the state of health in this community is below average, and so we want to find out why. So we get together with various stakeholders, such as the mayor’s office, the schools, the urban development office, and the local unions and businesses, to decide what success look like, to identify shared interests and envision what kind of community we want to see.
3p: Would you then provide resources in order to implement the solutions identified?
SS: In order for them to be sustainable, the community needs to find a way to support them. There is a vision called Sustainable Kalundborg, which is aimed at becoming a sustainable community in every sense, by 2025.
[Kalundborg is also the home of the Kalundborg Symbiosis, the world’s first industrial symbiosis.]
3p: It seems to me that there’s a bigger point you’re getting at here …
SS: Well it seems to me that the role of business in society has changed in the last generation. We as companies need to recognize that we are important to the community not just because we provide economic activity, but also because of the influence we can have. That shift in perception has also impacted the stakeholders. It used to be: We’d write a check, and they would spend it. Now it’s more: Let’s sit down and see what we can do together and what we need to do to make it happen. It’s less transactional and more transformative.
3p: It sounds like it’s about creating shared value.
3p: Any last thoughts?
SS: When a company is driven by a social purpose, they usually have a clear view of how they can help the people they serve.
RP Siegel, PE, is an author, inventor and consultant. He has written for numerous publications ranging from Huffington Post to Mechanical Engineering. He and Roger Saillant co-wrote the successful eco-thriller Vapor Trails. RP, who is a regular contributor to Triple Pundit and Justmeans, sees it as his mission to help articulate and clarify the problems and challenges confronting our planet at this time, as well as the steadily emerging list of proposed solutions. His uniquely combined engineering and humanities background help to bring both global perspective and analytical detail to bear on the questions at hand. RP recently returned from Abu Dhabi where he attended the World Future Energy Summit as the winner of the Abu Dhabi blogging competition.
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