At GBC Conference, Linking Human Health to Healthy Economies

The protection of forests is critical for the health of the fresh water people use to drink, bathe, and clean. Healthy people and healthy ecosystems are inextricably linked.

As a new and virulent strain of the E. coli bacteria is being fought in Germany, the Global Business Council on Health invited Conservation International’s CEO and chairman, Peter Seligmann, to explain the inextricable link between healthy ecosystems and human health at its 10th-anniversary conference and awards dinner on June 2 in New York.

The GBC, a global organization, previously focused on pandemic diseases including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. But it is now addressing public health more broadly, allowing it to take on a more integrated approach to human wellness. As Peter pointed out in his opening address to the conference, any broad definition of human health is underpinned by the services provided by nature: access to fresh water, nutritious food, clean air and a stable climate.

If we really want to tackle the long-term threats to the human population, like protection against disease, Peter concluded, we need to do a better job of taking care of the natural systems we depend on for all these benefits to humanity.

One important thing business can do to protect ecosystems that prevent the spread of disease is to get involved in protecting standing forests. Recent studies have shown that there is a close correlation between even modest rates of deforestation and huge leaps in the incidence of mosquito-borne diseases.

An underlying theme of the conference – sustainable communities – threaded through the discussion all day, starting with Mark Kramer’s remarks on the concept of “Shared Value,” which he and Michael Porter unveiled in a January Harvard Business Review cover article. Companies must take the lead, he argued, in creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges.

Rhonda Zygocki, executive vice president of policy & planning at Chevron, echoed CI’s philosophy when she announced that “healthy economies need healthy communities.” She also noted that the business community, with its global presence, has the “reach, resources and responsibilities” to help solve the world’s toughest social challenges.

Whoopi Goldberg, the awards dinner host, acknowledged the great accomplishments of companies like Coca Cola, Novartis, HP and Anglo American but exhorted the GBC membership to stretch even further: “It’s amazing what business can do when it wants to.”

Andrew Wilson is the vice president of corporate relations in CI’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business (CELB).

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