Faced with rising research and development costs and pricing pressures, many healthcare companies have rightly focused their communications on the topic of innovation. But new molecular entities are hard to come by, and market authorization will continue to prove unpredictable. So how can the industry live up to its promises to stakeholders? By tapping into sustainability as a driver for better human and bottom line health.

According to experts at global pharmaceutical and medical device companies and the field of sustainability, success in the shifting global healthcare industry will come to companies that understand where environmental challenges such as climate change overlap with the shifting global disease burden.

Healthcare companies that leverage their scale to open new markets and respond to intractable societal challenges will be the innovators that move ahead in the 21st century. It’s about more than innovating for profit; it’s innovating to stay relevant. The healthcare industry is rapidly evolving from ‘molecules and machines’ to an industry dominated by information, telecommunications and retail based on new players and delivery channels. In a year when 10 drugs contributing to $50 billion in sales will face patent expiration, sustainability offers a potential new avenue of innovation.

History holds a dire warning. The top players in industry are rarely constant over time. The future will belong to those companies that embrace the changing rules, learn from the examples of other leaders, and partner across sectors to deliver sustainable value. This value will be delivered by new healthcare products and delivery systems that help society adapt to and thrive in changing climate and disease patterns.

Focusing on environmental and social sustainability increases economic sustainability. Companies that focus on doing well by doing good are finding payback beyond the bottom line, from recruitment and retention benefits, investment by socially conscious mutual funds, and positive reputational buzz. All of these benefits ladder up to the creation of value for stakeholders and society.

For healthcare industry communicators, sustainability offers a platform to tell a positive story at a time when the industry needs some good stories. Working together with CSR, environmental health and safety, and commercial, PR teams have the opportunity to raise the profile of a company by virtue of how it is taking an innovative approach to market and product development while addressing the most serious health threats in the world today. That means innovation that saves lives and bolsters the bottom line.

Jeff Chertack is managing director, Ogilvy PR Brussels and head of OgilvyEarth Belgium

Monique da Silva is executive vice president and head of North American healthcare practice, Ogilvy PR