Citizenship Reporting External Commentary
By David Vidal, Director, The Conference Board Center for Sustainability
In the decade since Abbott’s first global citizenship report, much has changed in the world and in business. Some change has been momentous, and some slow and steady. The 2011 report captures some of the magnitude of this two-speed change by illustrating the depth and the breadth of the company’s global engagements in four areas: innovating for the future, enhancing access, supporting patients and consumers and safeguarding the environment. The report projects authentic commitment to global citizenship shows its successful application in many venues and gives evidence of increasing integration of business and citizenship strategies. All of this is to be commended.
But, as this first decade of reporting ends and a new one begins, Abbott has an opportunity to reflect on what a decade’s worth of citizenship activity means to the company and how it matters for its future. Beyond operational citizenship effectiveness or outcomes measurement alone, the newer questions are directional and systemic. They suggest that more impact and benefit can be gained by including attention to these issues:
Abbott’s Systemic Leverage
- How the four areas of Abbott emphasis relate to and reinforce one another is an area of opportunity and need as markets and issues globalize. For example, as a previously neglected disease gets increased attention, this new knowledge helps support consumers, and access to the remedies that ensue is improved. Abbott’s 2011 success in getting FDA approval for a diagnostic test for Chagas disease is a case in point.
- A more deliberate linkage between the environment and health, such as understanding the health effects of climate change, particularly in growth markets, is another open area at the intersection of innovation, safeguarding the environment and supporting consumers and patients.
Abbott’s Growth Markets
Other trajectories are hinted at in the report, and these deserve more focused attention going forward:
- The gradual migration of Western disease burdens such as diabetes to the growth markets in the East and the global south is a mega-theme. The report notes that more than 118 million people in India have hypertension and 60 million Chinese people either have diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance.
- As these markets bend the trajectory of global Abbott revenues in their direction – international markets account for 59 percent of 2011’s record revenues – the focus of citizenship activity needs to adapt to follow suit.
- Capturing and reporting on this co-evolution of business growth and citizenship responses in new markets is important to designing the dual Abbott citizenship future.
- How will Abbott innovate the future of its own citizenship program as the plan to become two companies is realized? The choices made will be of interest to all stakeholders.
- Will the principles guiding the formation of the two companies apply in equal measure to the area of global citizenship? Are different principles more appropriate, and if so, what principles are these?
- How does the prospective division of Abbott multiply, subtract from or add to the trajectory of citizenship achievements to date?
Only by posing such questions can answers be provided.
In Abbott’s 2002 citizenship report, Chairman and CEO Miles D. White stated, “Success in issues cannot be addressed adequately by the bottom line or within the confines of an annual report.” This statement is true now more than ever.
Note: All data in the Global Citizenship section reflects activities prior to the separation of Abbott and AbbVie on January 1, 2013.