Novo Nordisk Launches Publication to Mark 20th Anniversary of its Sustainability Program

For 20 years Novo Nordisk has been committed to sustainability. To mark its trajectory in this field, the company this week launched a publication called 20 Years in the Business of Sustainability, in which it chronicles its efforts in this sector.  The story goes back to the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and the launch was scheduled to coincide with the Rio+20, which kicks off today.

Let’s have a quick trip down memory lane. Novo Nordisk sent a delegation to the event, both as participants and speakers at the industry forum where companies, experts and UN representatives gave presentations and debated environmental issues. Also part of the experience were visits to the Non-Govermental Organisation (NGO) fair, where all types of issues were being discussed and campaigns being rolled out, from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), to equal rights and marine environments.

“We came back from Rio with a better understanding of how huge an agenda environmental protection was, how many stakeholders were involved and that many other companies were taking an interest. It was a real eye-opener,” says Lise Kingo, executive vice president and COS.

In reality the company had taken its first steps in 1987, when the sustainable development concept was defined by Brundtland Commission in a report entitled Our Common Future, which helped re-ignite public interest in the environment and spawned the concept of green consumerism.

In 1988 John Elkington and Julia Hailes’ Green Consumer Guide was launched. It brought back the concept that enzymes in detergents were harmful to human health, a warning that had caused sales of Novo Nordisk detergent enzymes to halve between 1970 and 1971, when Ralph Nader had put out a similar warning. Novo Nordisk then invited John Elkington to visit its facilities in Denmark and set the record straight. During the visit he was free to ask any questions and raise any challenges he liked. John Elkington accepted the invitation and visited the company in the late summer of 1989. After the visit he had changed his mind and agreed to revise the text about enzymes in the guide. The company then formed a Green Group which has evolved into the current Sustainability Committee.

A few years later, Novo Nordisk became in 1994 the first Danish company to initiate voluntary environmental reporting in 1994. In addition, the environmental report was independently verified by the SustainAbility think-tank and the verification statement was included in the publication. The second report, published in 1995, was entitled ‘Environment and Bioethics Report’, covering not only environmental performance but also the use of animals and genetic engineering.

The publication launched this week also describes several other sustainability and socially responsible actions such as 1997’s ‘Values in Action,’ designed to identify new focus areas for Novo Nordisk within the sustainable development agenda. Its outcome provided the roadmap for the next leg of the company’s sustainability journey, which would focus on social responsibility based on respect for human rights.

The booklet also tells us about the Changing Diabetes initiative, which is an advocacy platform speaking for people with diabetes, to those at risk, and those who can influence change. It mentions other initiatives such as membership of WWF’s Climate Savers Program and a partnership with Dong Energy, a wind power company recruited to help Novo Nordisk reduce its carbon emissions through clean energy.

Novo Nordisk says its sustainability and socially responsible policies are rooted in its Triple Bottom Line approach and values-based management. “Over the years I have seen how individuals across the organisation take action way beyond what is expected. In doing so, they drive innovation and bring great benefits to the organisation,” says Lars Rebien Sørensen, CEO at Novo Nordisk. “To me, this is what makes a sustainable business.”

To download the publication and find out more about Novo Nordisk’s sustainability business, please go here.

Image credit: @novonordisktbl