Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

leonkaye headshot

Abbott Increases Sustainable Packaging, Decreases Carbon Emissions

Words by Leon Kaye
[caption id="attachment_108186" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Abbott's Ultra Rice in India"]abbott, abbott laboratories, pharmaceutical industry, corporate social responsibility, waste diversion, water scarcity, water stewardship, corporate philanthropy[/caption] This week Abbott Laboratories released its most recent corporate social responsibility (CSR) report. The pharmaceutical industry giant employs over 90,000 people in 130 countries and has sales of over $30 billion annually. It also appears those 90,000 employees all had a say and contributed to what the company describes as its Global Citizenship Report. The long report is full of details, from the latest developments on the research and development front to its charitable and community activities across the world. Abbott’s focus on its corporate responsibility agenda lies in four major areas: innovation, access to medical care, supporting consumers and environmental protection. Pharmaceuticals and the environment do not intuitively appear to pair comfortably in the same sentence, but Abbott is tackling a bevy of challenges from water scarcity to sustainable packaging. The following are some of the company’s accomplishments: Carbon emissions: A company the size of Abbott sports a huge carbon footprint, from its manufacturing facilities to the daily driving its sales staff must do when visiting doctors and hospitals to pitch products. From retrofits that improved energy efficiency to greening its fleet, the company reduced its CO2 emissions by 17.5 percent from 2005 levels, reaching that goal four years ahead of schedule. Water stewardship: Based on 2005 levels, Abbott has cut its total water intake by over 50 percent last year, well ahead of its 2015 goals. The installation of water meters at overseas plants, organizing of local water conservation programs in various communities and revamping how its manufacturing equipment is cleaned all contributed to the sharp drop in water consumption. The company also has identified 18 facilities that could be affected by water risk by 2025. Waste diversion: “Focused resource management,” according to Abbott, kept the company a lean recycling and waste management machine. Again, based on 2005 levels, the company hit that 50 percent waste reduction goal four years early last year. Abbott is on target to achieve five zero-waste manufacturing facilities by 2015. Philanthropy and community involvement: Abbott’s greatest contribution is its involvement with a variety of local efforts across the world. The company’s overall program has three pillars: health care access, science education and community vitality. The projects that Abbott funds pair nicely with the company’s overall core competence, and a generous $730 million were distributed by Abbott and its eponymous non-profit foundation. One initiative focused on hunger is the company’s Ultra Rice program (pictured above left), a partnership with the NGO PATH that is developing a micronutrient delivery system that packs vitamins and minerals into rice-shaped grains. Innovation: Like just about every company, Abbott touts its culture of innovation. If you were to believe every company out there pitching its innovation, one would think no one had ever innovated until six months ago. Abbott is no different, reminding us that $4.1 billion was spent on research and development during 2011. But what Abbott is doing is leveraging its employees work on the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDI) to find new treatments for the world’s most neglected illnesses, including sleeping sickness and Chagas disease. Overall Abbott’s report is full of details - many of which are somewhat self-congratulatory. And while the company has achieved some impressive environmental goals, the details about how they got there are thinner than we'd like to see. Most companies that hit targets four years early would include more examples of how they achieved them in a short amount of time. While the long story about how Abbott is “doing good” is overall admirable, this is the case where less would actually communicate more. Leon Kaye, based in California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter. Photo courtesy Abbott Laboratories.
Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye

More stories from Leadership & Transparency