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The Promise and Difficulties of Sustainability in Consumer Health

April 2022

Consumer health companies have announced strong sustainability commitments, mirroring consumers’ accelerating worry. The industry starts behind other adjacencies that have navigated their environmental commitments for years; the consumer health industry would be wise to learn from their successes and mistakes as they scale up their approaches in the coming years. This brief outlines the state of sustainability in consumer health and how the industry will develop on this front in the 2020s.

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This report comes in PPT.

Key findings

Leading companies favour a mixed approach to sustainability, with details to be determined later this decade

After years of silence, consumer health companies have announced strong commitments to sustainability and environmental protection in recent years, mirroring consumers’ accelerating concerns and increasing demands for products that meet their eco-consciousness.

Downstream emissions are easier to tackle in the short term while companies determine the best long-term approach

Adjacent industries like beauty and personal care, packaged food or home care are many years ahead of consumer health in their environmental commitments, and consumer health companies should learn from their successes and mistakes to scale up their approaches quickly and efficiently.

Consumer health is starting behind other industries and could look to them for strategies in trying to catch up

One clear takeaway from other industries is to tackle downstream emissions (packaging, waste) before solving thornier upstream emissions dilemmas (supply chains, ingredients sourcing, manufacturing), although companies will still need to make progress in this area to meet stated Sustainable Development Goals.

Consumer health’s push for sustainability is occurring at the same time as exploding consumer concerns about climate change

Thus far, consumer health leaders have committed to reductions in both upstream and downstream emissions, although these are still at the general planning stage. The industry as a whole is still waiting to implement commercialised solutions on either of these fronts.

Smaller consumer health companies are nimble enough to experiment with solutions that will point the way forward for the industry

As market leaders take time to plan revisions to major corporate standards, the industry should look to smaller players for inspiration, as they are nimble enough to go to market with sustainable approaches to packaging, sourcing, shipping, supply chains, waste and recycling.

Key findings
Consumer health’s rising commitment to sustainability
Why is increasing focus on sustainability critical now?
Consumers increasingly worried about climate change
What can consumer health companies actually control?
Consumer health companies’ exposure to scope 3 emissions
Consumers’ engagement with sustainability measures are a mixed bag
Consumers have varied perspectives on sustainability
Who are “eco-conscious consumers”?
Consumer health needs to accelerate current sustainability initiatives
What does sustainability mean in consumer health?
Consumer health’s self-identified sustainability priorities
Sustainability claims: Consumer health behind in recycling
Sustainability claims: “Made from sustainable sources” non-existent in consumer health
Consumer health lags other consumer goods in sustainability
Influences from other consumer goods: Beauty and personal care
Beauty brands experiment with eco-friendly packaging materials
Beauty and personal care taking the lead with refillables
Influences from other consumer goods: Packaged food
Packaged food’s leaders evolving with recycled materials and sustainably-grown ingredients
Home care extends consumer goods’ commitments to ethical packaging
Breaking down approaches to sustainability in consumer health
GSK upstream activities
GSK downstream activities
Johnson & Johnson upstream activities
Johnson & Johnson downstream activities
Bayer upstream activities
Bayer downstream activities
Partnerships to accelerate sustainability goals: The influence of TerraCycle
Expectations in vitamins and dietary supplements
Swisse Earth and the promise of differentiation through sustainability
Building brand equity through commitment to sustainability
What to expect moving forward from sustainability in consumer health

Consumer Health

It is the aggregation of OTC, Vitamins and Dietary Supplements (VDS), Sports Nutrition, and Weight Management and Wellbeing

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