For business, is health the new “green”?

A decade ago, few people would have thought that major banks, retailers or Internet companies would need environmental strategies. Yet today, they do–Bank of America has promised to invest $20 billion on sustainability initiatives over 10 years,  Wal-Mart’s aggressive environmental efforts are well known and eBay, while selling second-hand stuff, touts the idea of sustainable consumption.

This is largely because expectations of business are always rising. To pick another example: When I was a kid, we didn’t think about how or where or under what conditions our sneakers or T-shirts were made. Now brands that sell footwear or apparel maintain expensive and extensive efforts to monitor their supply chains, to avoid possible scandal around child labor or unsafe factories. Just as Nike or Gap.

So what’s the next big issue that companies need to worry about?

Edelman-Health-Barometer2The Edelman public relations firm says it’s health. Last month, after surveying 15,000 people in 11 countries, Edelman released what it calls its Health Engagement Barometer. The firm says health is emerging as a major corporate responsibility issue, not just for the obvious suspects–drug companies, insurance companies, the fast-food industry–but for companies of all kinds.

Of those surveyed, 69% said that

business should be as engaged in maintaining and improving personal and public health as it is in maintaining and improving the environment.

Respondents to the survey said they would be more willing to trust, do business with and even invest in companies that are engaged in health issues–by, for example, making available products that promote health, communicating the health risks of their products, helping their workers become healthier, helping address obesity or contributing to global health.

“Health is joining environment as a major sustainability issue and therefore a major issue for businesses that want to prosper in the future,” says Nancy Turett, global president for health at Edelman. [click to continue…]