Going forward

A conversation about sustainability and ESG with Sarah Hill of BD

Jeffrey Kanige//November 15, 2021//

Going forward

A conversation about sustainability and ESG with Sarah Hill of BD

Jeffrey Kanige//November 15, 2021//

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Ask high-level corporate executives to name some of the most important questions facing their companies and most will at some point mention sustainability and environmental, social and governance issues. Investors, customers and employers all want to know how business leaders are dealing with the evolving social and economic landscape.

BD is no different. The Franklin Lakes medical device maker formerly known as Becton Dickinson treats these issues with seriousness throughout the organization, as one might expect from a health care business. NJBIZ recently spoke with Sarah Hill, BD’s head of sustainability, about the company’s approach.

“At BD we’ve had sustainability programs for a number of years — we actually just came off of our 2020 sustainability program that was launched back in 2015 before I joined,” she said. “So as that was wrapping up we were starting to think about where, as a company, do we want to go next. And the pressure and expectations on us has changed and grown over the years. There are a lot of issues now that are considered to be table stakes — that if you’re not doing them, then you essentially don’t have a license to operate. So we went through this process of thinking about what are all the ESG issues that are important to us and to our customers and our investors and our suppliers and our associates both current and future — all of our stakeholders and thinking about what’s important to us, but also what’s important to them.”

What follows is an abridged version of that discussion, edited for length and clarity. The full interview is available at here.

NJBIZ: From what I’ve read you start with four areas: community health, planet health, human health and company health. What is the thinking behind those subjects?

Sarah Hill: We have lots of these environmental, social and governance issues that we have to manage and mitigate and think about long term.  And so we thought about all these different issues and we saw that a lot of them interconnected, but they all had this running theme of health about them. We put this all together, we branded it as Together We Advance. It’s forward thinking of BD’s purpose of advancing the world of health and gets this idea that to move forward, we need to do it together. It’s not something that we can do on our own as an island, and we need to partner with all of our stakeholders.

We think about company health; this is about building a resilient company that’s got good governance and that’s ensuring we’re healthy for all our stakeholders. Planetary health — I don’t think this needs much explaining. That’s thinking about how we can improve our footprint on the environment, on the planet. Community health is really about how we can use our resources to do the right thing in the communities where we operate. But also maybe communities we don’t operate in and how we can use our resources to help communities be more resilient, help them recover from emergencies and extreme weather events, hurricanes that kind of thing. And then human health, this is our policy with our associates, but also with the customers and patients we serve. How do we help with the health of our associates, so that we can get the best from them and they get the best in their life so they can develop these innovative solutions and develop what’s next in health care.

So that’s how we think about all of our ESG issues about supporting these different types of health, and often if we can solve an issue in one area it helps solve issues in adjacent areas as well, so they don’t necessarily come in order.

Q: OK, then you’ve also made commitments on climate change, product impact, responsible supply chain, healthy workforce and community and transparency. Now, some of the concepts are familiar, but how do they work in the context of what you’re trying to do?

Sarah Hill, who leads sustainability efforts at Franklin Lakes-based BD, speaks with NJBIZ Editor Jeff Kanige about the company’s approach to ESG issues. –

A: So, as I mentioned earlier, we have all these environmental, social and governance issues that we as a company need to think about, everything from corporate governance ethics and compliance, product quality and safety, cybersecurity, social investing, philanthropy, inclusion and diversity — and that’s before you get to what we think traditionally sustainability is, like the environment, climate change, a lot of those programs, as I mentioned, they’re table stakes, for us as a company. Product quality and product safety — that’s some bread and butter, that’s what we do.

But there are some other ESG issues that are new and emerging or are a lot bigger than can be solved just by ourselves because we need to partner and think about our scope of influence and control. They need a much longer timeframe to tackle. So these were a couple of areas where we really wanted to put some deeper focus into them. This is not a separate strategy; this is embedded into the company and what we do, but this is how we thought about five key areas where we believe we could bring some real change and impact.

So, we talked about climate change, product impacts, and this is thinking more about the environmental impact of our products. Responsible supply chain — thinking about the environmental and social impacts, we have not only thought about transportation and distribution, but also upstream when we’re purchasing goods.

Healthy workforce and community — this is thinking about the health of our workforce and the communities where we’re operating. And transparency — we’re seeing more questions around that than ever and we feel it’s important to be transparent about our performance so that our stakeholders can make good decisions about how they interact with us.

  1. Now, you have specific goals for some of these things. What are you looking for, as you go forward, in terms of what sorts of behaviors should change, different kinds of products, different measurements? How do you measure progress, and what are you looking for specifically?

A: Good question. So, we made 15 commitments and some of those have hard and fast quantitative targets. For example, around climate change we recently signed up to the Race to Zero, which is a U.N. program, a coalition of companies that are driving toward being climate neutral by 2050. We are setting science-based targets around greenhouse gas emissions, both emissions that happen within our own operations but also upstream and downstream of our operations, where we’re purchasing goods and services. We’re thinking about the design of our products. We’ve set some targets already and we’re in the process of establishing a baseline so we can set science-based targets in other areas — those will be very clear quantitative targets that we can measure and track, year on year, to show progress.

Other areas where we can do that include inclusion and diversity, growing a diverse workforce not only across the entire workforce, [but at the] executive level as well, thinking about gender and ethnic diversity as well as thinking about pay equity, pay parity.

Those are some very clear quantitative targets. but there’s other areas where we’ve got some general commitments that we’ve made so we want to think a lot about our product design, ensuring that we’re designing products right the first time. We have a commitment to set minimal environmental standards for our products … thinking about new materials, different types of plastics, reducing the carbon footprint of our products. How we treat them end-of-life and thinking about how we can keep products in use for a lot longer. That’s a very actionable target here, we said, within the next 12 months we will set those standards and then from there we’ll be able to think about what our quantitative targets will be around how many new products will meet those standards and by when. And what we can do with the existing products as well.

Q: Do you see these goals evolving over time? As you meet them, do you then assess, OK we’ve done this, can we do even more along those lines? How does that process go?

A: Yes, we do need to change, we do need to flex because if we’re not then we’re not being aware of what’s going on around us.

This is a 10-year-plus strategy, some of our targets go out beyond 10 years, especially the climate targets. And as we’ve seen over the past two years, we don’t know what’s going to happen the next 10 months, never mind 10 years, so it’s important that we are continuously looking at all these different issues, seeing what’s changed, seeing what’s important to our external stakeholders. What’s going on at a global level, regional level, local level and saying is our strategy for what’s going on, is it right for our business, is it right for our stakeholders and then flexing and adjusting as we go along. There may be a situation where we add additional targets against our commitments, to add additional commitments. Or maybe we take some away because they’re just not relevant anymore or we’ve met the target and now we need to go beyond — where do we go next.

So yes, I fully anticipate that this program will change over the next 10 years. I would hope it does and that it stays integrated into how we think about risk generally as an organization as well.

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