In conversation with Bupa’s Andrew Smith

Taking note of the health impacts of climate change and environmental destruction, this week edie talks to Bupa's head of sustainability strategy Andrew Smith, who explains that the current economic situation is offering businesses a great opportunity to provide solutions that deliver resource and monetary savings.

What area will you be focusing on next in terms of sustainability?

Our focus will be on building our global partnerships – not just for the health of individuals and our customers, but significantly impacting the society and environment they’re in as well.

What are the major changes you see happening in your industry?

The traditional healthcare model as we know it (with large hospitals and a huge focus on sickness and treatment) is open to disruption by technology, people are increasingly empowered to make their own choices when it comes to managing their health.

What are the challenges for someone in your position?

Being seen as commercially relevant to the growth, development, brand and marketing of the business, as an ‘essential contributor to growth’ rather than a ‘nice to have’.

What motivates you?

Being part of companies that harness their resources and skill to change the world for better.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Imagining the new businesses and markets that Bupa can explore, applying a social impact lens. For instance, it’s exciting to imagine making quality healthcare affordable and accessible for the developing world.

What green innovation do you think can revolutionise the economy?

I don’t think revolution will be about one technology in particular but rather the trend for companies to make products and services that are both green and attractive, that will fundamentally shift consumer decisions.

What tips or advice would you give to newly appointed sustainability professionals?

In any business or industry, open yourself up so that anyone from within the business can contribute to your agenda and in exchange, consider how you will make a difference to their agenda. Identify early on who your core partners will be – in strategy, or brand, or sales.

What do you like most about your job?

I like that half of my focus is on connecting with the outside world – our partners, stakeholders, and engaging on global trends; and the second half is about bringing that into Bupa. Because of this, it’s a job that never gets stale.

What’s the worst aspect of your job?

If people don’t bring their values to their day job and see business as solely about finance not social purpose. It then takes more convincing and cajoling to set sustainability as a significant commercial consideration.

What do you think the next 12 months has in store for the green economy?

There’s a couple of things –
First, with many business, consumer and government purse strings under pressure, there’s a great opportunity to provide solutions that deliver savings in terms of resource and money.

The greater affordability of technologies that previously cost-inhibitive (eg solar panels) is enabling companies to buy and deliver at scale where previously they might not have.

Second, seeing companies increasingly launch great, attractive, and environmentally friendly products, for instance the BMW I3, is a development that I expect will continue.

What period of time would you visit if you had access to a time machine?
I would travel forward in time 100 years to when we have solved the big threats on climate change and chronic disease, to bring to the present the lessons learned so that we could get there quicker.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Being a part of setting bold, brave targets at companies like Bupa, Pepsico and Tesco, and seeing them delivered.

If you could go back in time, who would you like to meet?

Abraham Lincoln because of the way he successfully unified and led a team of people who would otherwise have been enemies, to bring about social reform and change for good, even in the midst of a civil war.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“You only live once, so make your 9 to 5 count for something”. Wisdom from my Scottish grandmother when I was weighing up those life decisions at age 18-21.

Worst advice?

A previous boss many years ago told me, “Don’t show emotion, just be professional”. But authentically bringing all of yourself – your values, passion, commitment – to your job, is when you’re truly in a position to inspire and motivate the people around you.

What’s your top tip for employee engagement?

Make it real, and make it something people care about, not abstract.

What state do you see the planet in in 30 years?

I think China and other developing countries are going to show us how it’s done – to grow rapidly in a low impact way while protecting people’s health. In 30 years’ time developed countries will be copying to keep up.

What do you say to the climate change sceptics?

Even if you don’t believe in climate change, the damage we’re doing today to our environment is having a very real impact on people’s health. We need to tackle it right now, because dirty air, polluted water, droughts, are harming us, our kids, right now, today.

What’s been your biggest win (environmentally)?

In the last six months, in Bupa we’ve committed to significant investment in technology that will make a tangible impact and save money, for instance in new energy-efficient solutions in our care homes. For me the most rewarding part was seeing leaders from other disciplines, for instance, the finance leaders, become the greatest advocates of these initiatives.

Books or kindle?

Books. Though at first glance you might think that’s less “green”… but because they’re more permanent, real and books feel more social – you can share them, pass them on. And they look good on the bookshelf!

Check out our ‘In conversation’ series here

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