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Are There Benefits to Integrating Corporate Health and Environmental Strategies? An Exploration of the Food/Agriculture and Textile Sectors

Authors: Vincent Gauthier, Lydia Olander, and Deborah Gallagher

Published: April 2019

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Publication Type: Working Paper

Businesses impact environmental determinants of health and can play an important role in creating integrated approaches for promoting a healthy environment. This report describes the ways in which the food/agriculture and textile sectors affect environmental conditions that are associated with health risks and assesses how companies are tracking and addressing these interconnected issues. We define environmental and health strategy integration as having corporate goals, policies, metrics, initiatives, and products that strive to improve human health through reducing associated environmental impacts. We used company communication through sustainability reports as a proxy of whether or not companies are implementing environmental and health strategy integration. We followed up with company and industry group interviews to determine the advantages and disadvantages of health and environmental strategy integration. We found that 58% of companies recognized the connection between their environmental impacts and their associated health outcomes. Furthermore, we found that 46% of companies have products, operations, or programs that explicitly connect health and environmental issues within their strategy. This shows that some companies have integrated or are taking steps toward integrating their health and environmental strategies. Our company interviews indicated that integrating health and environment strategies can lead to internal efficiencies, clearer understanding of corporate social responsibility (CSR) purpose by stakeholders, and reduced cost of project implementations. On the other hand, companies pointed out potential challenges of integrating health and environmental strategies, including greater complexity and confusion, and higher costs of larger programs. Our report reveals that integrated health and environmental action is not standard practice within companies but is recognized and acted upon by many companies. Our research found that there are potential advantages to integrating health and environmental action, suggesting that companies may benefit from moving environment and health integration toward standard practice. Further research is necessary to develop the business case for company integration of health and environmental strategies. We hope that this report will engender greater discussion of this topic within the business and sustainability communities.