The problem with pharmaceutical factories polluting the environment in manufacturing countries is a huge problem. But the industry denies it and the public aren’t aware of it. That’s why there’s no demand for politicians to implement stricter environmental laws. To highlight the problem, we created a new kind of medicine made from the active substances extracted from the water polluted by the pharmaceutical factories. This new type of medicine became the foundation of a PR campaign and was highlighted in Sweden’s biggest news outlets. It all together did put pressure on politicians who are now proposing stricter environmental laws.
Hyderabad in India is the world’s biggest manufacturing site for medicine. More than 50% of India’s global exports of medicine are produced here, and make up the major share of medicine imported to the US, Europe and Sweden – our home market. But due to lack of environmental oversight, many factories in Hyderabad still dump their waste straight into nature. This means the medicine we take for our health in Sweden and other wealthy countries is actively making people sick and polluting the environment in parts of the world struggling with bigger inequalities. Apotek Hjärtat, Sweden’s biggest privately owned pharmacy, has been working actively with sustainability since the start in 2010. In 2019 we decided to do our part in making pharmaceuticals more sustainable, and make sure the medicine we sell doesn’t harm others, even though it meant going against our own industry.
Describe the creative idea (20% of vote)
We collected 100 liters of water near the pharmaceutical factories in Hyderabad. In collaboration with Sweden’s most outstanding laboratories, RISE (Research Institutes of Sweden), we then analyzed the water and extracted the active substances, resulting in a new kind of medicine: Sordidum Pharmacum - a deadly cocktail extracted from pharma polluted water. The new ”medicine” was used in an integrated campaign (print, TVC, OOH, SoMe) that aimed to open the eyes of the general public in order to put pressure on politicians in Sweden and the EU. We sent the pills to politicians together with a medication package insert that states what we found in the water, what the effects are, and what we wanted to be done; adding sustainability as a criteria in the procurement of pharmaceuticals on a nationwide level. We also invited all Swedish pharmacies to join us in launching the world’s first label for sustainable pharmaceuticals.
Describe the PR strategy (30% of vote)
The problem with pharmaceutical factories who are polluting the environment is something the public is unaware of. Therefore, politicians aren’t encouraged to act. That’s why we created a new kind of medicines with all the active substances found in the water around the factories. We used the new medicine in an integrated campaign where we published open letters to politicians in Sweden’s biggest newspaper, sent the medicine as direct mail to politicians, It was also sent as direct mail to politicians. As we highlighted the problem, the public got outraged over the fact that the medicine that is making them healthy are causing huge problems when being produced. This made politicians more eager to propose new stricter laws.
Describe the PR execution (20% of vote)
The research & development, the analysis, the extraction of active substances and the development of the campaign was a two year project. It was then launched as a PR campaign where we simultaneously approached Swedish politicians and major news outlets. We then continued with an integrated campaign targeting consumers as well as open letters to politicians in the biggest Swedish newspaper. By activating the public there became a demand for politicians to propose a law change to adding stricter environmental requirements. Simultaneously, Apotek Hjärtat initiated a dialog with all Swedish pharmacies. It resulted in a joint label that highlights medicines that are produced in a more environmentally friendly way. This label was inspired by Apotek Hjärtats sustainability criteria and can now be found in all Swedish pharmacies.
List the results (30% of vote)
The campaign was picked up in both Swedish and international news outlets. The biggest Swedish news shows (The Morning Show, SVT, and Rapport) covered the story. The two shows have an audience of 1 and 1,2 million people. The campaign was seen by 1/3 of the Swedish population, drove 1 in 10 Swedes to visit the campaign site and generated over 10 000 downloads of the lab report. The news even traveled back to India as it was picked up by The Times of India – the world’s second largest English newspaper - The Times of India. But our campaign not only got people talking - it got the right people talking. The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) decided to support the campaign and to help out to demand stricter environmental laws in the procurement of drugs. Pharmaceutical trade magazines, medical companies and the general director of Sweden’s Public Health Agency started debating the issue, and supported our campaign message. A survey after the campaign showed that consumers now are demanding better information on how their medicines affect the environment, with 8 out of 10 people demanding better information. The campaign led to all major Swedish pharmacies launching a shared label for sustainable pharmaceuticals, based on Apotek Hjärtats original label. This label can now be found in all Swedish pharmacies. Politicians have proposed a new law that soon will be treated by the Swedish parliament where they are adding stricter environmental criteria in the procuring pharmaceuticals.
Please tell us how the brand purpose inspired the work
Apotek Hjärtat’s brand purpose is to contribute to better health and greater wellbeing for everyone, by being Sweden’s most thoughtful and caring pharmacy. But to really live up this promise, Apotek Hjärtat realized just selling medicines wasn’t enough. To walk the talk, they had to take more responsibility for how medicine is produced. That’s what led them to create Sweden’s first pharmaceutical sustainability label, putting pressure on the pharmaceutical industry to place higher demands on its suppliers. But the label was only a first step towards solving a huge problem few people know about - pharmaceutical pollution. An insight that inspired A Hard Pill to Swallow - bringing the world’s attention to the fact that the medicine consumed in wealthier countries might be making people ill on the other side of the world. That's why we turned polluted water into pills, and brought the real consequences of offshoring back home.