At first glance, you might wonder: how can med comms be related to environmentalism? Well, adjust your glasses – metaphorical or otherwise – and allow this article to provide an insight into the answer to this question from several different perspectives:
1 Med comms deals with various health conditions and treatments, some of which are strongly linked to the environment; for example, asthma has been linked to air pollution [1, 2, 3] and skin cancer has been linked to increased exposure to UV-B radiation due to ozone layer damage [4, 5]. Other associations are a little more obscure but are just as important. Examples include the treatment of vitamin deficiencies through changes in agriculture and health policies , and the discovery and derivation of medicines from animals, plants and microorganisms, such as the synthetic chemical Captopril – the first orally active angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor – which was crafted from a peptide found in the venom of the Brazilian pit viper .
2 The nature of the med comms industry, e.g. the production of paper materials, consumption of vast amounts of energy to power digital technology, association with pharmaceutical manufacturing and need for frequent global business travel, results in quite a large carbon footprint. This term is a very important buzzword in environmentalism that goes hand-in-hand with corporate social responsibility.
3 Finally, it is important to consider that, like any business, industry or entity in the world, our existence is dependent on the Earth’s existence. Speaking at the COP24 climate change conference in Katowice in December, Sir David Attenborough was clear: “If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon” . As intense as this reality seems, it means that everyone needs to take their environmental responsibility seriously, and Paul Lewis, chief executive of Carbon Credentials, points out that “businesses are in a unique position to lead the charge” .
Given that environmentalism is clearly highly relevant to medical communications and therefore relevant to us here at Porterhouse Medical, the aim of this article is to raise awareness of Earth Day 2019 and show how everyone can get involved.
Earth Day 2019: Protect our Species
Earth Day is a global day of political action and public participation: petitions are signed, politicians are engaged in conversation, refuse is cleared from beaches and pledges are made by companies to be more environmentally conscientious. The day is led by the Earth Day Network organisation, whose mission is to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement worldwide , and every year more than 1 billion people participate in Earth Day activities on 22 April .
Earth Day has a rich history, from the first Earth Day in 1970 when millions of people in the USA took to the streets to protest the negative impacts of 150 years of industrial development, to the launch of the End Plastic Pollution campaign in 2018, which you can still get involved with [12, 13]. Furthermore, an ambitious set of goals have been drawn up for launch in alignment with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020 . Each year, there is a different theme for Earth Day, and this year the theme is Protect our Species .
Among the heartbreaking statistics available on endangered species, the harsh reality that we are now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the normal rate, with multiple extinctions daily  can take a moment to sink in, but when it does, it weighs heavily. However, given the urgency of the situation, pragmatism must take precedence over sentimentality – it is possible for all of us to take actions to help combat the human activities that are largely responsible for endangering species, such as deforestation, poaching, unsustainable agriculture, pollution and pesticide use .
Examples of how you can help:
- Support and promote use of sustainable palm oil products
Palm oil is ubiquitous and especially important in food and cosmetics, but high demand for palm oil drives rainforest deforestation, which consequently threatens endangered species such as the Sumatran orangutan and the Bornean pygmy elephant . However, in comparison to alternative crops such as rapeseed and soybean, palm oil crops yield between 4 and 10 times more oil per unit area of land [18, 19]. So, rather than boycotting palm oil, seek out products that have been made with sustainably sourced palm oil and certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) .
- Create fertile habitats at home
The 45 percent decline in global insect and invertebrate populations over the last four decades  is a very worrying figure when considering food chain sustainability and pollination. Therefore, it is important to provide fertile habitats for insects by creating compost piles [21, 22], growing plants that are native to the local ecosystem  and pledging to stop using pesticides .
- Prevent water pollution
Aquatic life suffers greatly from human pollution: sea turtles mistakenly ingest plastic bags because these look like jellyfish , fish consume microplastics that accumulate in the oceans  and corals are damaged by chemicals such as oxybenzone in sunscreen . To help, you could educate yourself on plastic pollution by taking this quiz  and use this toolkit  to learn about the ways you can make a difference; for example, you could buy innovative products created from recovered ocean or environmental plastics. In addition, you could sign this petition to remove oxybenzone from sunscreens  and use only oxybenzone-free sunscreens to help protect our coral reefs.
As well as supporting the themed campaigns, there is a great list of tips for going greener here . Three of my favourites are:
- Join a local park, river or beach clean-up – if there isn’t one already planned, why not try to organise it yourself? There are even toolkits on the Earth Day website!
- Stop using disposable plastics, especially single-use bottles, bags and straws – there are lots of brilliant reusable alternatives available
- Buy local food to reduce the distance from farm to fork – this will also help you to eat seasonal foods, reducing the pressure on food producers to maintain year-round output
Earth Day 2019: A Porterhouse Perspective
There is a shared spirit of entrepreneurship and ambition here at Porterhouse, so in support of the Environmental Audit and Improvements project that I have chosen to undertake as part of my internship, we are focusing as a company on Earth Day tip number 36: Form a ‘green team’ at your office to find cost-effective ways to conserve resources and promote sustainability.
At the moment, the majority of articles written about the environment appear to be all doom and gloom, but with so many people getting involved with efforts to protect the environment and, in doing so, celebrating Earth Day, it’s reassuring to think that maybe the future is bright after all.
For more information about Earth Day 2019, visit https://www.earthday.org/earthday/.
- Guarnieri M and Balmes JR. Outdoor air pollution and asthma. Lancet 2014; 383 (9928): 1581–1592.
- Achakulwisut P, Brauer M, Hystad P et al. Global, national, and urban burdens of paediatric asthma incidence attributable to ambient NO2 pollution: Estimates from global datasets. Lancet Planet Health 2019; Epub ahead of print (DOI: 10.1016/S2542-5196(19)30046-4).
- BBC News. One in 10 child asthma cases ‘linked to traffic pollution’. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-47882038. Accessed April 2019.
- Bharath AK and Turner RJ. Impact of climate change on skin cancer. J R Soc Med 2009; 102 (6): 215–218.
- Amron DM and Moy RL. Stratospheric ozone depletion and its relationship to skin cancer. J Dermatol Surg Oncol 1991; 17 (4): 370–372.
- Golden Rice Project. Vitamin A deficiency-related disorders (VADD). Available at: http://www.goldenrice.org/Content3-Why/why1_vad.php. Accessed April 2019.
- Rainforest Trust. Owed to nature: Medicines from tropical forests. Available at: https://www.rainforesttrust.org/owed-to-nature-medicines-from-tropical-forests/. Accessed April 2019.
- BBC News. Sir David Attenborough: Climate change ‘our greatest threat’. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46398057. Accessed April 2019.
- The Telegraph. 90pc of businesses aren’t taking climate change seriously. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/business-reporter/climate-change-action/. Accessed April 2019.
- Earth Day Network. About us. Available at: https://www.earthday.org/about/. Accessed April 2019.
- Earth Day Network. Earth Day – April 22. Available at: https://www.earthday.org/earthday/. Accessed April 2019.
- Earth Day Network. The history of Earth Day. Available at: https://www.earthday.org/about/the-history-of-earth-day/. Accessed April 2019.
- Earth Day Network. Earth Day Network Campaign: End Plastic Pollution. Available at: https://www.earthday.org/campaigns/plastics/plastics-campaign/. Accessed April 2019.
- Earth Day Network. Earth Day’s 50th anniversary. Available at: https://www.earthday.org/earthday/countdown-to-2020/. Accessed April 2019.
- Earth Day Network. Earth Day 2019 – Protect Our Species. Available at: https://www.earthday.org/campaigns/endangered-species/earthday2019/. Accessed April 2019.
- Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity (Chivian E and Bernstein A, eds). Oxford University Press; New York, NY, USA, 2008.
- World Wildlife Fund. Endangered species threatened by unsustainable palm oil production. Available at: https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/endangered-species-threatened-by-unsustainable-palm-oil-production#. Accessed April 2019.
- The Conversation. Palm oil boycott could actually increase deforestation – sustainable products are the solution. Available at: http://theconversation.com/palm-oil-boycott-could-actually-increase-deforestation-sustainable-products-are-the-solution-106733. Accessed April 2019.
- The Guardian. From rainforest to your cupboard: The real story of palm oil – interactive . Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/ng-interactive/2014/nov/10/palm-oil-rainforest-cupboard-interactive. Accessed April 2019.
- Yale Environment 360. What’s causing the sharp decline in insects, and why it matters. Available at: https://e360.yale.edu/features/insect_numbers_declining_why_it_matters. Accessed April 2019.
- Royal Horticultural Society. Making compost. Available at: https://www.rhs.org.uk/videos/advice/Making-compost. Accessed April 2019.
- Royal Horticultural Society. Composting. Available at: https://www.rhs.org.uk/Advice/Profile?PID=444. Accessed April 2019.
- Amateur Entomologists’ Society. Habitat conservation. Available at: https://www.amentsoc.org/insects/conservation/habitat.html. Accessed April 2019.
- Earth Day Network. Action alert: Help us protect species by taking our pesticide pledge. Available at: https://www.earthday.org/pesticide-pledge/. Accessed April 2019.
- See Turtles. Ocean plastic & sea turtles. Available at: https://www.seeturtles.org/ocean-plastic/. Accessed April 2019.
- Blastic. Plastic ingestion by fish. Available at: https://www.blastic.eu/knowledge-bank/impacts/plastic-ingestion/fish/. Accessed April 2019.
- Coral Reef Alliance. Direct threats. Available at: https://coral.org/coral-reefs-101/reef-threats/direct/. Accessed April 2019.
- Earth Day Network. Oceans plastic pollution quiz. Available at: https://www.earthday.org/oceans-plastic-pollution-quiz/. Accessed April 2019.
- Earth Day Network. Plastic Pollution Primer and Action Toolkit. Available at: https://160g7a3snajg2i1r662yjd5r-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/Plastic-Pollution-Primer-and-Action-Toolkit.pdf. Accessed April 2019.
- Earth Day Network. Coral reef protection petition. Available at: https://earthdaynetwork.salsalabs.org/newoxybenzonepetiton/index.html. Accessed April 2019.
- Earth Day Network. Earth Day tips. Available at: https://www.earthday.org/earth-day-tips/. Accessed April 2019.