Updated: Sep 17, 2022
Climate change will be more linked to our personal health for the right causes and the right consequences. Discover why and how to do it.
Welcome to “A Healthusiasm World”, a newsletter by Christophe Jauquet on making customers healthy & happy.
Understand how the boundaries between healthcare, wellness, and consumer industries are blurring.
Discover the latest health behaviours, innovations and trends.
Learn what's next for customer experience, purpose-driven marketing, and digital health.
Every business is a health business, simply because everybody wants to be healthy & happy.
Is it about health?
When I speak at marketing conferences, I'm often asked why I am there. "Don't you speak about health?" Business leaders often struggle to grasp the importance of health in their innovation and customer strategies. (And hey, that happens to be exactly what I speak about.) But the same remarks also occur at conferences about sustainability or climate change. Neither do we realise that there are "no healthy people on a sick planet".
Climate change is about health
In my first Healthusiasm book, I explain how the world is obsessed with three significant transformations:
Transform yourself (health & happiness),
transform your immediate environment (inclusivity and diversity) and
transform the planet (sustainability and climate change).
These are part of many discussions and debates. They even make up a large part of our intrinsic behaviours or choices. Interestingly enough, our health & happiness is actually at the centre of these transformations, overlapping both with our drive to transform the immediate environment and the planet large. Because both inclusivity & diversity and sustainability & climate change impact our health. I want to specifically emphasise the relationship between our health and climate change in this newsletter.
Table of contents
Back to nature
We take refuge in nature to unwind, recharge or exercise. That much we've understood, alright. It became apparent again during the lockdowns, as nature was often the only accepted escape from our homes. Horticulture and corona walks became a much-needed getaway for many. But as the planet was taking a (much-needed) break during lockdowns, we noticed birdsongs we hadn't heard in ages. Skies seemed clearer and bluer, and we read about the better air quality measured everywhere. It became obvious what we've been doing to our planet for many decades. And the conclusion confirmed what we already knew: Mother earth needs some more nurturing so that we can continue to nurture in nature.
The supposed origin of Covid -19 also highlighted the intimate, direct links between humans, animals and the environment. Of course, This SARS variant was not the first infectious disease sprung from animals onto humans. We actually share two-thirds of known human infectious diseases with animals. Most emerging diseases, including Malaria, Ebola and HIV/AIDS, have jumped from wildlife to humans. It's expected that the ongoing climate change will aggravate the severity and danger of this evolution.
Climate change impacts human health
One of the most extensive meta-analyses pooling research data on the impact of climate change on human health was published in August 2022 in the journal Nature Climate Change. The objective of this research was to fully quantify the global threat from pathogenic diseases amplified by climate change. It included the previously mentioned two-thirds of infectious diseases and some 40 conditions often overlooked in most research on how climate change impacts human health. Because respiratory, cardiovascular, neurological, gastrointestinal and skin diseases are even so worsened by extreme heat, rising sea levels, wildfires, extreme drought, air pollution and severe weather.
Climate change exacerbates too many illnesses to capture its magnitude. But its impact even extends our personal health. It also endangers health and happiness in every continent by damaging the conditions of our lives. Extreme temperatures, poor air quality, and precipitation extremes (from droughts to severe storms) also threaten food security, housing and labour market, employment, regional wealth and local economies, healthcare delivery and even people's mental health. All of these environmental conditions influence our health massively. In fact, the health inequality in the world is primarily attributed to the differences in these conditions. While we've worked hard to level these differences out, climate change heavily deteriorates health inequality again. It's a vicious circle. The regions most vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate tend to be the ones least equipped to manage and recover from it. Climate change now risks nullifying the progress in global health development and health equality we've achieved in the past 50 years.
Climate change is the greatest threat to humanity
The World Health Organisation calculated that climate change would cause 250.000 additional deaths annually and cost an extra 2-4 billion US dollars per year globally. The WHO, therefore, considers climate change as the single biggest health threat to humanity. It's mandatory to protect and preserve the source of human health: nature. The medical research community fully recognises this daunting view. Last year, more than 200 medical journals released an unprecedented joint statement citing climate change as the "greatest threat" to global public health. In an open letter to G20 leaders, more than 40 million health professionals also urged a healthy recovery from COVID-19 where nature thrives. A healthy recovery, the letter states, should increase efforts against pollution, climate change and deforestation. This will be critical to prevent "new health threats from emerging for vulnerable populations".
Ironically enough, the healthcare industry is one of the biggest polluters, even exceeding aviation.
Climate change as a health issue
Climate change activists have been around for decades. They are the "prophets" shouting that the world will end if we don't change. Having that many medical prophets is relatively new to this scene. It was also the first time that the health community had its very own pavilion at a UN climate conference (COP26). Over 60 events were organised in the span of two weeks, showcasing the health arguments for ambitious climate action across many different sectors and topics. Prof. David Pencheon, a UK doctor who leads the NHS Sustainable Development UNIT, urged to treat climate change as a health issue and not just as an environmental issue: "It makes it much more immediate to everybody."
I fully align with Prof. David Pencheon's belief. Moreover, we already have the right societal foundations to make it actionable. Research by Nielsen (2021) stated that 61% of consumers strongly agree that environmental issues harm current and future health. I believe this to be one of the most critical insights for our planet's future (and for your business's future). Sustainability actions suffer a lot from freebooters. "Let somebody else do it. I'm just going to continue doing as I always did." But when it comes to personal health, there is no freebooting. 'Climate change as a health issue' might be the enormous opportunity to fight against climate change successfully. And it's already successful today. The growth in organic food consumption is attributed more to personal health aspirations than to sustainability reasons. When asked about their conviction to eat organic food, people will cite more health benefits than benefits for the planet.
'Climate change as a health issue' makes people realise how much our personal health is linked to the planet's health. With all the facts we read, there is a growing understanding of this symbiotic relationship. Microplastic pollution can now be found deep in the lungs of breathing humans and in fish who live 100 meters under sea level. Experts like Patrick Hanaway, Medical Director from the Institute of Functional Medicine, state that not only the biodiversity in fauna and flora has decreased by 80%, but also the diversity in our own microbiomes. During corona walks, we rediscovered this symbiotic relationship for ourselves as well. Since then, major healthcare institutes, like the NHS, are ramping up their investment in green prescribing. This initiative supports physicians to prescribe walks in nature for its influence on people’s mental and physical health. People who report stronger connections with nature report higher levels of well-being, like more happiness as well as more meaning and satisfaction in life.
This form of ecotherapy, where humans connect with nature again, is ubiquitous even beyond the healthcare industry. You can easily spot the indoor-greenery revolution in contemporary interior and architectural trends. The popularity of biophilic design is deeply rooted in our desire to connect with nature again. Patios are having a revival, and nature-facing windows are more prominent than ever. But also interiors are bound to provide us with the relaxing feel of nature. Green wall paint colours are 'in trend' and bring a touch of nature (while being chemical-free as well today). Wooden structures and other natural elements become central ornaments that bring the feel of nature to the house. Ventilation systems are diffusing microorganisms in spaces, while sales of indoor plants are skyrocketing to remove harmful pollutants from the air, stabilise humidity levels and reduce the symptoms of “sick building syndrome” or SBS. Workplaces are following suit by decorating entrances and meeting rooms with vertical gardens.
This tendency to go back to nature is also a counter-reaction against the omnipresence of the digital world. We want to get out of it, so we go out again. People are becoming more conscious of the health-damaging effects of the plethora of digital screens that capture our attention all day. Digital detox has been around for a decade now but has - by far - not reached its peak yet. As the metaverse will further develop its grip on our society, you can expect more people to escape to the reality of nature again.
Treat the planet as your health
There is also a growing understanding that how we treat the planet should be no different from how we treat our bodies. The Healthusiasm trend makes we no longer accept a single solution to manage our health. For example, when we feel sick, we won't just resource to antibiotics as much as we used to. People adapt their nutrition, sleep, and physical and mental exercise when managing their health. Technology often helps in fighting diseases or to optimise our health as well. We treat the planet no different. We slowly abandon, for example, the use of single solutions like pesticides in agriculture as well. Technology and science play an increasing role in to fight against climate change.
The potential of technology and science is exponentially growing, from ocean-cleaning devices to plastic-eating enzymes. Geniuses often make us feel as if the saving solution is near. The story of these 'wizards' is almost opposed to the one by the earlier mentioned 'prophets', making it confusing to understand the reality. Is the end near? Or have we found the solution? It's hard for the average person to understand, let alone take a position. No wonder more people tend to become freebooters in this confusing situation.
Sustainable business strategy
It's also challenging to build a future business strategy in this reality. Whatever action you take to combat climate change never feels good enough. It cannot be as groundbreaking as what 'Wizards' claim they can do and, therefore, would eventually vanish into thin air. Neither will it be enough for the activists and risks a backlash by those 'Prophets'. As a result, companies sometimes don't dare to take risks or undertake action. Then again, I believe herein lies the unique opportunity for businesses.
While Wizards and Prophets play a significant role in society, they aren't representative of your customer base (yet!). But they might be one day. It's good to realise that better still beats perfect today. After all, removing all daunting fears at once is impossible, nor is it necessary to provide some wizardry immediately. Moving forward with consistency, confidence, and pride about your progress is better. Amplify the positive changes you bring to the market (and this planet) with a down-to-earth mentality. Don't oversell it nor shy away.
The Healthusiasm Take
The focus on sustainability will not go away. In fact, it will instead become more vital in the upcoming years. We live in the transformative twenties. People want to transform themselves, their immediate environment and the planet into something better than it is today. We want to and can do better. Because on many of those fronts, we have messed things us in the past. Climate change, for example, is ruining our planet. But it is also destroying our health. As the pandemic brought us back to nature, it made us realise how closely linked humans, animals, and the environment are. Climate change influences our personal health directly by aggravating many diseases. It also indirectly affects the environmental conditions that ensure good health, such as labour, housing, wealth and healthcare delivery. For these direct and indirect reasons, the WHO and the medical research community consider climate change to be the biggest threat to public health.
This close link between climate change and health even argues to present climate change as a health issue. It makes it much more immediate and personal because everyone wants to be(come) healthy & happy. There is also no freebooting your health, like with sustainability. Therefore, I believe that sustainability and health should be incorporated together into your business strategy. It makes it more tangible and recognisable for your customers. Design customer transformations that help the planet in such a way it also conserves, helps or improves your customers' health & happiness. Don't feel limited by prosperous Wizardry or 'prophetic' doomsayers. Walk your path steadily and celebrate modestly the minor progresses made. Be proud with realism about the actual impact of your progress. Never oversell it, but translate it to what matters most for your customers: their health & happiness.
After all, there are "no healthy people on a sick planet".
Keynote speaker on the future of health business.