Photo: Green pharmacies fill a prescription for planetary health

(Credit: sean dreilinger via Flickr)

Marc-André Mailhot is a pharmacist in Montreal and the entrepreneur behind the company Maillon Vert. A passionate environmentalist, he has developed and is currently piloting a "green pharmacies" program. This initiative aims to help pharmacies reduce their environmental footprint, while taking care of their patients' health. Mr. Mailhot is also developing a "Guide for Sustainable Pharmacies" in partnership with SODER, a non-profit environmental organization in Montreal. Docs Talk asked him about these initiatives and for his point of view as a pharmacist on the connections between health and the environment.

Docs Talk: What is the connection between a pharmacist's work and the environment?

Mr. Mailhot: A pharmacist's mandate is public health. In fact, according to the Quebec code of pharmacist ethics, "The primary duty of pharmacists is to protect and promote the health and well-being of their patients." Now the World Health Organization indicates that, globally, about 25 per cent of the causes of death and disease are related to environmental factors. Pharmacies should be doing everything they can to protect the planet since, as we know, it is intimately related to health of the population. And I believe the best way for pharmacies to improve their impact is by integrating sustainability principles into their operations. Pharmacists have a collective responsibility to promote healthy management of their operations and services offered to the public through sustainable development. Pharmacists also have a role to play in raising patients' awareness of their own impact on the environment. Did you know that every year, Montreal alone dumps the equivalent of one tonne of antibiotics into the life-giving St. Lawrence River?

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Docs Talk: What is a "green pharmacy"?

Mr. Mailhot: I use the term "green" because it's catchy, but the more appropriate term would be "sustainable". Sustainability appears complicated, but at the core, it is simple. It is a form of development that respects social, environmental and economic issues in order to satisfy the needs of current generations without interfering with those of future generations. We also keep in mind the three Ps: people, planet, profits. In the case of a pharmacy, we review its professional activities, community impact and environmental impact. We can then modify the services it offers, revise its use of supplies, energy, products sold, etc. However, we must also focus on social performance, the work conditions provided for employees, and community involvement. This may translate into simple actions such as installing bicycle racks or more complex ones such as committing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A more sustainable pharmacy is more effective for itself and for its patients.

Docs Talk: What motivated you to develop the "green pharmacies" program?

Mr. Mailhot: Since the beginning of my career, I have worked in over 150 pharmacies across Quebec. I realized that very few pharmacies demonstrate environmental leadership. The sustainability movement has never turned its cameras on neighbourhood pharmacies, which is fortunate, since the image projected would hardly be stellar. It's hard to claim that we are committed to public health when we don't recycle anything but our cardboard, we consistently give plastic bags to our clients, and we fail to demonstrate "green" leadership. And this is only the tip of the iceberg! In short, I find it disappointing that people who work in pharmacies are not more aware. Pharmacies have an excellent reputation and are trusted by the public, and they should demonstrate leading practices for sustainable development and become "model" businesses.

Docs Talk: How do you propose to help pharmacies improve their environmental performance?

Dan Kingsbury

Mr. Mailhot: A well-implemented sustainability program allows a business to increase its profitability while contributing to the well-being of the planet and its clientele. As in any sustainability program, we begin with a diagnostic of the pharmacy. Next, we can establish our objectives—where we want to go. The last step is to determine the "how"—and this is probably the step where pharmacies lack the most expertise. We go over ideas for sustainability initiatives and then we analyze feasibility, profitability and social and environmental impacts. Once we have this information, it becomes easy to prioritize and plan actions. Throughout the process, it's important to involve not only the owners but employees as well. This encourages them to take ownership of the project and feel motivated to take action when the time comes to implement the initiatives. I assist in all of these steps, with the help of my expertise, experience and network of partners. It is important to respect the pace set by the pharmacy—one step at a time, everything in its own time. In this way, I support the pharmacy from start to finish.

Docs Talk: What results do you hope to achieve?

Mr. Mailhot: Some pharmacies are already trendsetters in certain areas. I'm thinking, for example, of the Boivin, Bourget and Tremblay Pharmacy in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, which reported on its greenhouse gas emissions. But these are exceptions to the rule and we can go so much further—in all pharmacies! Ultimately, my objective is to ensure that all pharmacies fulfill their mandate by reducing their social and ecological footprint, while improving long-term profitability. I also hope to re-establish a more "professional and committed"—and less "mercantile"—image of pharmacies. A shift toward a more eco-responsible pharmacy can enhance the image of the pharmacy as well as mitigate the risk of the business fading away due to a lack of leadership. Professional and green, focused on the health of their patients and their planet, and beacons within their communities—this is how I envision the pharmacies of tomorrow.

July 11, 2012

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