GSK: Happy smiles, happy planet!

In this interview, we talk to Gareth Ruddock, Head of Conscious Consumption, Oral Health at GSK.

As GSK’s consumer healthcare is looking to become a standalone company, sustainability is at the forefront of its thinking, not just morally but as a tool to attract investment.  “There is a huge body of evidence that the more sustainably minded and ethical a company is in terms of ESG, the better it performs in terms of shareholder growth and value,” says Gareth.

Shareholders are one thing, but what about stakeholders, most importantly consumers?  Whilst efficacy of the product is obviously at the forefront of buying decisions, more consumers are trying to buy sustainably. “If things compromise their sense of ethical balance, for example animal testing, they say ‘I can choose different products that better fit with my values’.”

He adds “So it’s not a sustainable choice or a therapeutic choice. They expect us to deliver both of those in one easy to use proposition.”

What is GSK doing to beef up its ESG credentials? There is the obvious on packaging, recycling, sourcing materials carefully, and educating consumers of course.  As Gareth explains, “We are very conscious of water scarcity and of ensuring that the human rights and the infrastructure around that community is taken care of.” “At the consumer end of the chain there is a time app which has been downloaded over a million times. This helps children brush for two minutes twice a day with a world of characters called The Nurdles.”

However ESG is also about prevention. “There are a number of studies that have been done showing the carbon footprint of a check up when you are in a healthy state is 10 times less intense than replacing teeth with a denture.” Gareth adds “We fundamentally believe that a healthy mouth means you get happy smiles. You will see people almost regressed from society through the loss of confidence that comes from tooth loss. Tooth loss to gum disease may be preventable if we can stop gum disease, if we can stop periodontitis developing.”

If this leads to better self esteem and mental health, that is obviously great. However there is an economic benefit too.

According to research by the UK’s Oral Health Foundation, bad oral cost the country over £105 million (€89 million) each year in sick days. One in 20 working Britons was forced to take time off work in the last year because of it. That’s a total of 1.2 million working days lost, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and development (CIPD). And that is just in the United Kingdom!

Internationally GSK is also working hard on the community aspects of ESG, partnering with a charity called “Smile Train” which helps treat cleft palates and thus transform lives. “What they do is train health care professionals in the area and localities to ensure that for years to come they can treat the condition. We’ve helped them train over 2000 health care professionals to treat this condition around the world.” GSK is also working with the FDI to produce the world’s first care guidelines on cleft palate.

Sustainability isn’t just about plastic, or procedures. It is also most importantly about people!

1. source: Carbon Modelling Within Dentistry, Centre for Sustainable Healthcare and Public Health England)

2. source: