How Sanofi Creates a Virtuous Cycle with Sustainability

How Sanofi Creates a Virtuous Cycle with Sustainability

Dr. Jeana Wirtenberg, nationally recognized expert in organizational change, shares the third of four exclusive excerpts adapted from her new book Building a Culture for Sustainability.

Our whole focus is patient-centric. This is core to who we are and integrates CSR into everything we do.

—John Spinnato, 2012

What has inspired me most as I’ve come to know Sanofi and its people over the last 10 years is their extraordinary level of caring and humanity, manifested in the company’s overriding commitment “to improve the health of all seven billion people on the planet.” Whether this translates into helping people in Africa with neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) such as sleeping sickness or Buruli ulcers; vaccinating 2 million children under age five who still die each year from preventable diseases; addressing the needs of the 63 million people with diabetes in India; training 15,000 midwives in 15 countries to reduce maternal mortality; developing and delivering orphan drugs for patients living with such rare diseases as Mayze; or tackling the proliferation of diseases resulting from climate change, Sanofi applies its vast expertise in chronic diseases to  a wealth of situations around the world, helps others learn from its experience, and in general, is part of the solution.

With humility, the company recognizes that it cannot accomplish such formidable goals by itself and recruits full participation of a vast array of stakeholders. Sanofi explicitly and intentionally develops strategic partnerships with international institutions, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), health professionals, and patient organizations across the globe. The company understands that its substantial and ambitious commitments require an engaged, inspired, and talented workforce that is continually developed and reinvigorated. At the center of its universe is the patient, its true raison d’être.

What Does a Culture for Sustainability Look Like for Sanofi?

For John Spinnato, vice president, North America Corporate Social Responsibility and president, Sanofi Foundation for North America,“The key to a culture for sustainability is full participation, to make everyone feel they are part of something greater and bigger and to have an impact on patient’s lives, whether it be in a small way or a greater way.”

In an ideal state, Spinnato said,“for every major decision, and a lot of minor decisions, people need to stop and ask, ‘What is the impact to the organization within our key pillars’?” Spinnato told me that although the financial bottom line has always driven every corporation’s decisions, Sanofi wants to develop a culture in which people stop and look at the impact on the environment and the impact on our social structure before making decisions. Aside from this being the right thing to do, he explained, if those decisions are not examined holistically, they could have tremendous negative ramifications for the image and reputation of the company.

Figure 9.1   Sanofi’s Four CSR Pillars and 12 Priorities. (© 2012 Flag. Used with permission.)

Looking forward, Sanofi seeks to ensure that every time a decision is made, the people making the decision “reflexively understand what CSR means and whether that decision has an impact on society at large and an impact on the environment, as well as on the bottom line.”

Several people I spoke with said that it was leadership and vision that drove this change. The actual and impending loss of patients caused the leaders at Sanofi to ask and answer the question, “Why does Sanofi really exist?” Once the answer came clearly into focus—“The company exists to serve the patient”— Sanofi began to reorient itself so that everything is done with the goal of improving the lives of the patient.

Also undergirding all Sanofi’s commitments is “a passion to help people.” Patient centrality is manifested in a holistic view that encompasses the prevention of disease and an emphasis on wellness.

Evolving from Environmentalism to Social Consciousness to Innovation

Sustainability at Sanofi began with a strong commitment to the environment, which was embodied in efforts such as those to properly manage the company’s chemical waste and to reduce its power and energy, CO2 and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and water usage. Over time, the company started looking at the social aspects of sustainability, “helping mankind to live better healthier lives and reduce the cost of healthcare. We wanted to be a good local and global citizen and started donating vaccines in developing countries,” said Loupos.

The people I interviewed told me that the company never saw sustainability as  a trade-off or a barrier because leaders at Sanofi quickly became aware of the ways in which sustainability could help the company be more efficient and thus actually save it money. Finding new drugs, treatments, and cures could drive up revenue and profitability. And as more revenue and profits become available, a virtuous cycle is created, allowing for greater R&D investments to create more innovative solutions.

Over the years, the culture evolved to be more socially conscious. When Sanofi was put on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the first time, the company did not view it as a CSR initiative. But over time, environmental sustainability and socially beneficial initiatives came together at Sanofi under the umbrella of CSR.

How Impact Fuels a Culture of Innovation

In his “Senior Management Interview” in Sanofi’s 2012 Corporate Responsibility Report, CEO Christopher A. Viehbacher explains that the company “decided to focus on areas where we can make a real difference and have the most impact.” Chief among these is access to quality healthcare, given that approximately one-third of the world’s population— more than 2 billion people—currently has no access to even the most essential care of this sort.

Sanofi’s commitment to innovation is fueled by its recognition of demographic trends, the need for health-care reform, and an ever-increasing demand for new treatments for the world’s growing and aging population. At the same time, a culture of innovation can help the company become more sustainable as continuous improvement of its manufacturing processes help it become more efficient and cost-effective internally.

The key to creating a culture for sustainability is reaching people in every function by explaining its connection to what they do everyday. Whether in finance, internal security, information technology, research and development, manufacturing, human resources, or supply chain and procurement, a direct line can be drawn between the work employees do and sustainability. Each employee at Sanofi needs to have a clear line of sight and understanding of how her work affects the company’s ultimate beneficiary—the patient.

Image of ‘Ephemeral Environmental Sculptures Evoke Cycles of Nature’ by Christopher Jobson via

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