Monday, August 16, 2010

CSR and sustainability for the pharmaceutical industry

The Pharmaceutical CSR and Sustainability evening organized by NetImpact and Fairleigh Dickerson University (FDU) was very good ... but maybe there was something of a bubble characteristic surrounding the event. Everything that was said in the course of the event was consistent and "good to hear" ... but then I stepped back into the real world where CSR and sustainability are notable for their absence!

From my perspective CSR is a "good" thing ... just as environmental sustainability is a "good" thing ... but who cares. It is quite likely that many actually care ... but how many are in a position to do anything meaningful about these issues.

Most people in their daily work have to do what their employers demand ... usually in a "no questions asked" mode. Ordinary people need their jobs to pay their bills, and very few ordinary people have much of a cushion against bad events.

And this is in the United States ... perhaps the richest economy on the planet. Clearly there are a whole lot of things that have gone wrong ... and remain wrong. My view of the problem is quite simple ... allocation of resources for the best part of the last three generations, say six decades, has been all about consumption growth and rather little about investment in productivity and quality of life.

Getting back to the specifics of the pharmaceutical industry ... I am struck by the efforts by the big pharmaceutical industry to manage IP not so that the world's health is as good as it can be, but so that the companies are able to maximize profits. The only metrics in play are those that relate to profit and stock market valuation of the company ... yet a good pharmaceutical company could have a really huge impact on the health of the world. As far as I know ... and I have looked fairly hard ... there are no metrics about the value that the pharmaceutical industry brings to the healthcare sector.

Even simple metrics are not easy to find. I wonder how much is spent on meaningful CSR versus how much is spent on Washington lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry ... not to mention EU lobbying in Brussels ... and making sure that the WHO stays in control of what are "official medicines"!

My guess is that the value destruction associated with poor global health is way bigger than the profits being realized by the pharmaceutical for profit process ... and that science is already well enough advanced to make a huge difference to global health if that was a mainstream priority. This will never happen until there are meaningful metrics around these matters!

With a complete system of value metrics it will become possible for the capital markets and corporate board rooms to take the value construct into consideration as well as the prevailing ubiquitous business model for profit.

The FDU evening was great ... an important subject was discussed ... but I am afraid there is a big jump still needed to get to meaningful value metrics that will make CSR and sustainability mainstream!

Peter Burgess

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