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In 2015, the Rockefeller Foundation-Lancet Commission coined the term “planetary health” to focus on interactions between environmental and human health. Since then, groups such as the Lancet, The Planetary Health Alliance and the U.N. Health and Environmental Linkages Initiativehave given growing attention to the influence of environmental conditions on human health.
Most recently, the United Nations Environment Program published its sixth Global Environment Outlook focused on the theme of “Healthy Planet, Healthy People.” The report states: “Poor environmental conditions which can be changed (‘modifiable conditions’) cause approximately 25 percent of global disease and mortality.”
Given that fossil fuel companies are the largest contributors to climate change and that chemical production, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, textiles, smelting, agriculture and refineries are major contributors to air and water pollution, addressing the environmental and ecological determinants of health requires leadership across many corporate sectors.
But as Mary Engvall, senior director of corporate responsibility at global health services company Cigna, explains: “The connection between the health of the planet, the quality of the air and the cleanliness of our drinking water have very direct impacts on health — and yet often times people think of them as somewhat disparate.”
In other words, the nexus between changing environmental conditions and health outcomes is not well understood by many businesses.