Health and well-being, these are words we hear spoken a lot nowadays, but what are they really? Although undoubtedly connected, health and well-being are two different concepts. Health can be considered objectively as being in a condition free from injury or illness, wellbeing is a more subjective term. Whereas health is a state of being, wellness is the state of living, which can start with the basic human needs such as food, shelter safety, education, and healthcare. In addition, wellness also involves higher notions such satisfaction, socialisation, happiness, self-esteem, and a sense of purpose. Wellbeing fluctuates with social, cultural, and political events, and is therefore more of a social construct.
Our health can mean our physical health, which is having a body that is strong, proficient, and free of disease, and also our mental health, which is having a mind that is resilient, capable, and free of illness. Both our mental health and physical health affect the other. The extent to which our wellbeing is incorporated into our state of living impacts directly on both our physical and mental health.
One aspect of life that significantly harms both our health and well-being is stress. Stress can taint every aspect of our lives, including our relationships and social interactions. While stress can originate from many areas, one of the most common culprits is work. According to the 2020 UK workplace stress survey, (conducted by Perkbox) in 2020 79% of British adults in employment commonly experience work-related stress, which was 20% higher than the 2018's survey’s findings, meanwhile just a minute 1% of UK employed adults stated they have never experienced workplace stress.
Employee treatment is one of the main catalysts for work stress. Thus, highlighting the importance of strong governance with ESG / responsible business policies that safeguards and supports employees. A nurtured employee is less likely to have time off work with poor health and is more likely to be productive. Therefore, a company with poor governance and who treats its employees adversely is more likely to suffer lower productivity, and therefore poorer business performance. The investment case for ESG driven / SRI compatible companies can be seen from a performance perspective, as well as a principled one.
In our SRI and Sustainable models, we hold the EdenTree Responsible and Sustainable Global Equity fund. This fund’s largest holding is Microsoft. Microsoft is listed as one of top companies for prioritising the mental health of their employees. At Microsoft, employees share their mental health stories, something that occurred naturally, rather than through a program. The company’s mental health initiative, Microsoft Cares, offers in-person, digital, and telephone counselling as well as support groups and workshops for all its employees. Additionally, Microsoft has a Research Digital Mental Health group, which comprises of an interdisciplinary team of researchers, engineers, data scientists, and designers who are passionate about studying mental health, building technology to support mental health, and improving people’s wellbeing. This group employs a wide variety of approaches from large-scale data analytics, human-centred design, social computing, to clinical trials. The group also collaborate with academic institutions, mental health organisations, and psychology and psychiatry experts to bring the expertise into Microsoft and to broaden Microsoft’s positive impact.
Goal 3 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is ‘Good Health and Wellbeing’, which aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all, at all ages. As you look through the targets for this goal, it becomes more evident that this health and wellbeing goal is clearly connected to other Sustainable Development Goals, because health and wellbeing cannot be ensured for all people without the eradication of poverty, hunger, inequalities, and the promotion of strategies and innovation to ensure clean water, reduced pollution, accessible education and work opportunities.
Targets for this goal include by 2030, reducing by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promoting mental health and well-being. Indicators for this target involve a reduction in mortality rate attributed to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and suicide. Achieving this goal requires people to have access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable medicines and vaccines. We also need innovation in biotech and healthcare to find new and efficient ways to prevent and treat illness and disease.
As sustainable investors we are looking for innovation and solutions to meet the rising challenges of illness and disease. Across our sustainable and SRI models we hold the Brown Advisory US Sustainable Growth Fund. Within this fund’s top holdings is United Health Group Incorporated, who refer to sustainability as ‘an extension of their business strategy, culture and mission, as they work to help make the health system work better for everyone’.
United Health Group are working to advance ‘health equity’. Health equity is only achieved when every person, regardless of race, location, or circumstance, has the prospect to live their healthiest life. There are barriers to good health, and these are disproportionately experienced by people from minority backgrounds, historically marginalised groups and those with lower incomes. To address this, United Health are working on expanding access to services via digital capabilities, enhancing health literacy, and the use of artificial intelligence and data analytics to connect people to care. United Health are also addressing social determinants, by making investments to address affordable housing, food insecurity and social isolation. They are also leveraging data to detect needs and provide personalised care; using interactive digital tools to personalise care for underserved populations and providing in-home assessments to determine patient needs.
A number of the SRI funds that we are invested in across the Sustainable and SRI range hold Thermo Fisher Scientific, whose mission is to enable their customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer. They achieve this by helping to accelerate life sciences research, solve complex analytical challenges, improve patient diagnostics, deliver medicines to market, and increase laboratory productivity. Thermo Fisher are motivated to ‘innovate for a better tomorrow’. Great progress has been made over the last two decades in cancer research, partly due to technology such as next-generation sequencing (NGS). The amount of genomic data produced as a result of quicker and more robust NGS platforms has aided a better understanding of cancer. This information is evolving the advancement of therapies that are helping to lengthen the lives of many cancer survivors. However, despite these advances, the vast majority of people are yet to benefit from them. This is because the technology that can help match them more quickly to potentially more effective therapies is generally not yet available in the hospitals where most patients are diagnosed and treated. To address this, Thermo Fisher provided increased access to genomic testing through the introduction of the Ion Torrent Genexus System in 2019. This NGS platform is the first system of its kind that is able to generate a comprehensive genomic profile in a single day. Furthermore, it is designed with an automated, simple-to-use workflow that practically any properly-certified hospital lab can implement, whilst being able to return a comprehensive genomic report using minimal amounts of sample.
Another target of goal 3 is: by 2030 substantially reducing the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination. As sustainable investors we invest in a number of solutions focused thematic funds. These include water, clean energy and green infrastructure, which help to reduce pollution and enable access to clean water and sufficient nutrition. Environmental pollution is not a new occurrence, but it remains the world’s greatest problem facing humanity, and the leading environmental causes of morbidity and mortality. Human activities through urbanisation, industrialisation, mining, and exploration are at the forefront of global environmental pollution. To help to combat this, across the SRI and Sustainable range we hold the Pictet Clean Energy Fund and the Climate Asset Fund. The largest holding in the Pictet Clean Energy Fund is Nextera Energy, the world’s largest producer of wind and solar energy. Nextera are committed to being an industry leader in environmental protection and stewardship. Senior executives are actively involved in the company’s environmental accountability, management and stewardship programs that are intended to, among other things, prevent pollution, minimise waste, and conserve natural resources.
One of the biggest holdings in the Climate Asset’s fund is Xylem. Xylem is a leading water technology company committed to "solving water" by creating innovative and smart technology solutions to meet the world's water, wastewater, and energy needs. Xylem produces inventive solutions to enable the sustainable use of water globally. They have approximately 16,000 employees working in more than 350 locations and across 150 countries who create premium applications solutions to respond to the needs of a diverse customer / consumer base.
A further target of goal 3 is related to smoking. This target aims to strengthen the implementation of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in all countries. We are all aware of the dangers of tobacco and the impact of smoking on our health, and also its effect on our health services. It’s clear therefore why we exclude companies who obtain significant turnover from the production and sale of tobacco from our sustainable and Ethical mandates, where we want to invest in the good, the innovative and the solution generating, rather than the harmful.
So, to achieve the Good Health and Wellbeing goal of the Sustainable Development Goals, the solutions are multi-faceted and are all in areas where the sustainable investor is already positioned. Our ability to treat and prevent illnesses needs to evolve as the health challenges we face grow, Covid-19 being a tragic example of this. But alongside innovative and accessible healthcare, we need to be able to breathe clean air, access clean water, and sufficient nutrition, whilst having the opportunity to live in a society where our mental health is nurtured through our work, our interests, and the ability to be included, respected, and belong.