A Proactive Approach to Community Health Is Integral to ESG Programming

by | May 5, 2023 | Stories

Authored by Dr. Natalie Suder Egnot, Managing Health Scientist and ESG Advisor at Stantec

As we come together at this year’s Climate Leadership Conference (CLC), our discussions will center on climate change mitigation and adaptation. When reflecting on these topics, it is important we consider climate impacts on public health and well-being, and strategies we may use to reduce community vulnerability and build resilience to climate change related health impacts. Companies are embracing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) programming intended to address the impacts of climate change because it enhances corporate value, increases investor confidence, and fosters alignment with stakeholder priorities. Traditional ESG frameworks have included worker health and safety indicators. However, against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing global supply chain disruptions, recurrent preventable community health crises, and continued social unrest, there is growing recognition of the influence of private sector entities on the health, well-being, and health equity of communities in which they operate.

Despite this recognition of private sector impacts, intended or unintended, on public health, there remains limited guidance on how organizations may credibly assess and manage impacts on workers, consumers, and communities. The consideration of health, well-being, and health equity is often viewed as a discretionary feature rather than an integral component of ESG strategy and programming. 

Embedding the assessment and management of human health risks across the value chain can allow organizations to avoid financial losses by maintaining business continuity, building and maintaining social license to operate, anticipating emerging regulations, and balancing corporate stability with innovation and growth over the long term. Beyond generating beneficial shifts in social and environmental determinants of health, organizations that take a proactive approach to embedding health in ESG strategy may benefit from:

  • Reduced regulatory intervention and greater strategic freedom
  • Reduced legal intervention 
  • Improved employee health, well-being, and productivity
  • Reduced healthcare costs
  • Greater ability to attract and retain talent
  • Enhanced credibility and trust among consumers
  • Improved relationships with local communities
  • Stronger corporate reputation
  • Greater access to capital 
  • Reduced insurance premiums
  • Avoided investment in technology and/or products likely to result in long-term health issues

The proactive assessment of public health impacts is particularly critical as we aim to meet the challenges of climate change by investing in innovative technologies to enable the transition to a to a low-carbon economy. For example, as the US expands manufacturing of solar technologies, transformers and electrical grid components, electrolyzers and fuel cells to meet the growing demand for clean energy, it is imperative that public health risks are proactively assessed and managed to prevent unforeseen negative health impacts from derailing progress. By proactively assessing and managing potential health effects among workers, consumers, and communities, we can help fuel the energy transition while preventing long-term health issues and alleviating, or at a minimum not exacerbating, existing health disparities among vulnerable and underserved communities already experiencing the greatest impacts of climate change. 

At Stantec, we have found that managing health and well-being under an ESG risk management framework enables organizations to address the broader public health impacts of climate change and creates an environment in which human and social capital can thrive in line with financial capital. Coupling our health science and public health expertise with our planning, engineering, and strategic consulting experience, we integrate health into ESG risk management in a fashion that is not common within the ESG ecosystem, including:  

  • Integration of health and well-being into sustainability strategy and reporting
  • Health impact assessments
  • Environmental and human health risk assessments
  • Exposure assessments and modeling
  • Comprehensive occupational health program support
  • Epidemiological study design and data analysis
  • Product stewardship 
  • Health equity-focused program evaluation

We have learned that practical solutions, coupled with innovation, can be integral in helping communities plan for climate change, enhance biodiversity, protect human health, provide social value, develop economic opportunities, and create a sense of place and well-being. We hope that our participation in the CLC will help demonstrate the value of comprehensively incorporating health in ESG strategy and generate productive conversations about how we may create the healthy and resilient communities of tomorrow.

Stantec is a Gold sponsor of the 2023 Climate Leadership Conference and Awards.