Healthcare is Central to Walgreens New 2020 CSR Strategy
Last week, Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) released its 2019 Corporate Social Responsibility report. It included highlights from WBA's sustainability programs and recognitions from 2019. The report was broken down into four parts: healthy communities, sustainable marketplace, healthy planet, and healthy and inclusive workplace. Total Retail spoke to Alain Turenne, vice president, corporate social responsibility, Walgreens, to learn more about the report and the retailer's CSR strategy for 2020.
Total Retail: The retail industry is always changing. How does WBA adapt its CSR strategy to the environment, and what challenges arise while adapting?
Alain Turenne: Our business strategy and our CSR strategy focus on innovation and strategic partnerships to create a sustainable societal impact. And our company purpose is to help people around the world to live healthier and happier lives. It’s truly part of our DNA as a company, particularly given the critical role of our pharmacists in delivering compassionate care to our customers and patients.
Healthcare is central to our CSR strategy because it aligns with our business and it’s the area our stakeholders believe we can have the greatest impact. In our annual CSR Report we share our progress with numerous organizations to help deliver healthcare services and to raise awareness around health issues in the markets where we operate, such as free HIV testing programs and dementia awareness campaigns. [...] As a healthcare enterprise, we're focused on how we can leverage the tremendous energy, expertise and talent across our company to further impact lives around the world. Programs like Walgreens partnership with the UN Foundation to help provide 50 million life-saving vaccines to children around the world are just one way that we bring our business to bare on a critical issue, such as the lack of healthcare around the world. Changing consumer expectations does require agility and collaboration. That’s why we bring together the right partners to ensure that our CSR strategy is delivering maximum societal impact, while serving the needs of our business.
TR: Can you tell us a little bit about the Feel More Like You program and how it’s designed to help people with cancer manage all of the side effects of living with the disease?
AT: Our pharmacy and beauty expertise are brought together with the Feel More Like You program in some 3,000 Walgreens stores. Pharmacists and beauty consultants in these stores receive empathy training and learn about hypothetical customer scenarios so they can support people living with cancer in a holistic way. Patients undergoing cancer treatment may experience hair loss and changes in their skin and nails, and our Feel More Like You beauty consultants help them find products to manage these changes. Pharmacists also guide them to resources on drug interactions and managing side effects. Walgreens partnered with cancer organizations to help develop the program, which is similar to an ongoing program in Boots stores in the U.K.
TR: Can you tell us a little more about the Boots UK Covent Garden flagship store. Will Walgreens adopt any of those new concepts in the U.S.?
AT: We’re excited about the Boots UK Covent Garden store, which represents the sustainability store of the future. Customers are able to refill containers with shampoo, body lotion and other products, which reduces waste and encourages reuse. Customers can also purchase eco-friendly toiletries and period products, and take advantage of a Rehydration Point to fill up their water bottles. Since Walgreens Boots Alliance was formed more than five years ago, Walgreens and Boots have learned a lot from each other in the area of CSR, sharing best practices on everything from diversity and inclusion, to more sustainable ingredients in owned-brand products. We have a shared desire as a global company to be good stewards of the planet, so we're constantly looking across our organization, from how we source products to our retail environment, to identify ways to reduce waste, improve energy efficiency, and educate consumers about environment-friendly actions they can take in their own lives. We also ensure that best practices are shared across all our divisions.
TR: Walgreens recently became a partner of Loop. Can you tell us about that pilot program and how customers are responding to the partnership?
AT: Loop has allowed Walgreens to offer our customers an alternative to disposable packaging by giving them the products they love in durable and reusable packaging. Currently, the program is only available online. The customer response has been overwhelmingly positive, and we're excited to explore ways we can expand the program. It’s tremendously exciting to see the enthusiasm from brands and how Loop encourages them to innovate with their packaging. We're continuing to look for ways we can help make our business and our customers more sustainable.
TR: Why is it so important for WBA to have responsible sourcing and sustainability in the marketplace, and what are you doing to make sure your retail products meet customer expectations?
AT: Customers want to feel confident that the products they use are safe, and they want to know what's in them. They also want to buy products that are sourced ethically and in an environmentally responsible way. We work hard with our vendors to make sure that all of these products are safe and properly labeled. Our Chemical Policy details our progress on removing substances that are on our public Restricted Substances List from products in certain categories. We continue to drive responsible sourcing practices throughout our supply chain, protecting human rights and engaging with suppliers around ethical and environmental issues. We do not undertake animal testing on our products. We have a Product Testing Policy on our website. We also conduct ethical assessments on owned-brand suppliers and terminate business with any sites where we find zero tolerance issues, such as forced or child labor. In fiscal 2019, we conducted more than 1,200 ethical compliance assessments on new and existing suppliers for our Walgreens and Boots UK owned brands. WBA is more than a retail pharmacy and pharmaceutical wholesale company. We also have a portfolio of highly regarded products in our global brands portfolio. These include skincare brands like No7, Liz Earle and Botanics, and beauty brands Soap & Glory, Sleek MakeUP and others. Boots UK and Walgreens also have large portfolios of owned-brand products, ranging from suncare to food and beverages, paper products, household cleaners, and more.
TR: What are the top three highlights from the CSR report that you think retailers would especially find interesting?
AT: We're improving energy efficiency across our large retail footprint. For example, we've cut costs and energy use through investing in more efficient lighting and HVAC equipment. WBA emissions from energy, excluding acquired Rite Aid stores, decreased by 7 percent in fiscal 2019 compared with the previous year. That decrease was mainly driven by continued energy efficiency investment in our stores.
As a touchpoint for millions of customers every day and an employer of more than 300,000 people, we aim to generate excitement among customers and employees when we partner with nonprofit organizations to give back to society. Red Nose Day is a perfect example. Our employees are enthusiastic about Red Nose Day, and they share that excitement with our customers. Through Red Nose Day we’ve raised more than $100 million to address childhood poverty in the U.S. and around the world. Team members host spirit days at local schools to encourage community involvement and participate in competitions for which store can sell the most noses, all in an effort to support the cause.
As a retailer, we also provide an important resource to communities through our medication disposal kiosks, which are located in approximately 1,500 Walgreens stores. This is one of several ways we're helping to fight the opioid abuse epidemic. We've safely disposed of more than 885 tons of unwanted prescriptions through this program. People can find the closest kiosk to them by typing “drug disposal near me” into Google Maps. We also provide customers with safe medication disposal kits across all our stores, including those that don't have kiosks.
TR: What are you most proud of from WBA’s CSR milestones for 2019?
AT: We have numerous achievements from this past year: Boots UK began transitioning out of plastic bags and also achieved its goal of sending less than 1 percent of operational waste to landfill. WBA joined the Global Shea Alliance (GSA), which promotes industry sustainability and quality practices for shea in food and cosmetics. Liz Earle, a WBA-owned beauty brand, is working with GSA to support 800 shea pickers in the North Gonja District in Ghana, including helping them to generate more income through business and financial training. We've helped to provide more than 200 million children and women with life-changing vitamins and minerals through our partnership with Vitamin Angels, an international nonprofit. Walgreens donates 1 percent of the sale of participating vitamin products to Vitamin Angels. We're now expanding this partnership so that other WBA businesses around the world can also participate and help us reach even more children and mothers. Many of our CSR partnerships are long standing. We’ve found that working collaboratively, over many years, with organizations that share our values has been key to the success of our CSR agenda.
Related story: Analyzing Kroger and Walgreens Retail Procurement Alliance
Ashley Chiaradio is the Senior Content Strategist at Total Retail. Ashley has been creating content for more than 7 years, and provides a unique insight in covering the retail industry having worked directly for retailers in the past. She’s passionate about profiling women leadership in the space.