HealthApril 22, 2024

Going green: Eco-friendly initiatives help retail pharmacies save costs and appeal to consumers

While large pharmacy chains might have sweeping sustainability goals, even modest, environmentally friendly changes to consumer education and distribution can have a notable impact on costs and reputation for retail pharmacies.

Looking at green pharmacy initiatives on Earth Day

As we approach Earth Day, celebrated globally every year on April 22, many of us will be inspired to consider the impact of our actions on the planet. For business leaders and innovators, it prompts evaluation of environmental, social, and governance – or ESG – policies, a popular framework to assess an organization’s business practices through a lens of sustainability and ethical criteria.

In the retail pharmacy sector, which is growing more complex both financially and in terms of demand for services, ESG initiatives are decidedly back-burner. 

That’s not to say some large chains aren’t devoting time and budget to sustainability concerns:

  • Albertsons’ “Recipe for Change” ESG Initiative is a four-pillar pledge to reduce emissions and waste and address inequities in communities it serves.
  • Rite Aid’s ESG efforts feature goals toward renewable energy use, sustainable procurement, and community-based equity programming.

Nonetheless, in general, retail pharmacy’s priorities must also focus on controlling costs and serving consumers.

And yet, those things are not mutually exclusive to “going green.” Some simple efforts to improve sustainability in the pharmacy setting are also impactful on costs and consumer satisfaction, making environmentally friendly initiatives a win-win for pharmacies.

Digital medication education: Cutting paper and cutting costs

With environmental concerns top of mind for many consumers, pharmacists are making a concerted effort to go green where possible.

One of the simplest ways to make strides toward that goal is by implementing digital medication leaflets as part of your consumer engagement and education strategy.

For most pharmacies, one of the values of switching from paper printout medication education leaflets to digital education – delivered via text link, emails, QR codes on pill bottles, or online patient portals – is operating expense. By merely saving the cost of paper supplies and printing maintenance, retail pharmacies can see a 70% or higher return on investment from switching to digital education.

Additionally, there’s a safety benefit.

If you gave your average consumer a sheet of paper six months ago, and they have questions about their medication today, chances are they won’t be able to find it, or they pull it out of storage all of the sudden, it has the potential to be outdated. If you’re leveraging a digital experience, it allows the pharmacist to make available the most current clinical evidence, regardless of when they printed that QR code or sent that URL to the consumer.

Even if the initial impetus is cost savings or patient safety or both, the end result includes a measurable reduction in paper and other resources and less waste, as well as less potential waste being sent home with consumers. All of this is a definite step in the right direction for going green.

A win-win-win.

'Environmentally friendly’ is consumer-friendly

Another factor that can’t be ignored in making incremental, green steps is the large strides it can help a pharmacy take in showing their values align with potential consumers. Research shows that younger consumers make choices based on an organization’s reputation and record of sustainability and environmentally friendly initiatives.

By demonstrating ESG commitment to a younger consumer base, pharmacies have an opportunity to build and sustain loyalty within this age cohort, which ultimately leads to an increase in health literacy and medication adherence through evidence-based digital medication education.

But not only will it impact your customer base, environmental commitment will eventually pay off in its impact on your recruiting, too, as younger pharmacists and techs might prefer an environmentally conscious employer. 

How does DE&I fit into sustainability initiatives?

Many pharmacy ESG programs include a component of community outreach and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I), to pursue more equitable care for consumers and more inclusive work opportunities for pharmacy employees. 

While it is important to keep DE&I in mind while planning green initiatives, there is a flip side that keeps me up at night a little bit. Initiatives like going paperless are meant to improve consumer access to vital medication education and important wellness information to enhance their decision-making capabilities. But within that digital experience is the inherent bias that everyone will have access to broadband Internet, Wi-Fi, or a cell phone as needed. As pharmacy progresses, we also need to make sure we are checking in with consumers and patients who may have care or resource access challenges to ensure they aren’t being left behind.

Whitepaper: Creating a sustainable future for pharmacy

As retail pharmacies face an evolving landscape, they need to embrace opportunities for success and take a proactive approach to building out new strategies for financial and care services growth and sustainability. Learn more in the whitepaper, “Creating a future-ready retail pharmacy: Challenges and opportunities.”

Garry Marshall
Sr. Director, Pharmacy Strategy, Clinical Effectiveness, Wolters Kluwer Health
Garry Marshall, MBA, is the Senior Director of Pharmacy Strategy at Wolters Kluwer Health, where he leads the pharmacy business strategy for the UpToDate and Medi-Span solutions.

Download the whitepaper

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