Walgreen’s Sustainability: The Good & The Bad

Healthy people and a healthy planet should go hand in hand. So what is Walgreens doing in the world of sustainability and social justice? Here’s why we rate Walgreen’s sustainability and social justice a 1/16, evaluated on 12 UN SDGs.

June 21, 2023


Healthy people and a healthy planet should go hand in hand. So what is Walgreens doing in the world of sustainability and social justice? Here’s why we rate Walgreen‘s sustainability and social justice a 1/16, evaluated on 12 out of 16 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The Good

Health Equity

Walgreens has made strides towards improving societal well-being by donating $5 million in flu shot vouchers and contributing to over $25 million for cancer research at Susan G. Komen and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Through their “Get a Shot, Give a Shot” initiative Walgreens aims to provide children in developing countries 100 million vaccinations by 2024.

They’ve also committed to helping the non-profit Vitamin Angels provide 500 million women and children with vitamins and minerals by 2025. In the past, they’ve helped provide millions of measles and polio vaccines to children across the globe.

Workplace Inclusivity and Diversity

Walgreens has set a goal of increasing women in leadership by 3% every year.

They have also prioritized increasing persons of color in leadership by 2% yearly, “with 60% attributed to Hispanic/Latino and Black/African American”, while increasing spending by nearly $100 million with “diverse suppliers”, according to their yearly impact reports. 

Walgreen’s Sustainability Goals 

According to their 2022 ESG Report, Walgreens is currently on track to achieve their goals of reaching a 30% reduction in plastic packaging by 2030, and have 100% of plastic packaging be reusable or recyclable.

Additionally, the Walgreens Boots Alliance (Walgreens parent company) has utilized their Boots locations to implement “Recycle at Boots” – adding recycling receptacles at hundreds of UK store locations to incentivize recycling empty beauty containers.

Walgreen’s sustainability initiatives also include a commitment to reducing carbon emissions by 21.2% (compared to 2019) and committing to reducing food waste in the UK by 50% by 2030.

Walgreen's Sustainability: Karma Wallet Company Report Card

The Bad

Staffing Issues

Walgreen’s sustainability and social justice efforts has consistently fallen into the trap of placing profit before people.

Following the labor shortages around the height of the pandemic, employees reported overworked pharmacists and unfair labor practices, including wage theft, which led to staff burnout. Walgreens has since tried to move away from a “task-based metric” system to discourage burn-out, while also investing more into staffing to address the shortages. 

Ethical Violations

Walgreens has come under fire in the past decade for overcharging customers for prescriptions and various ethical violations.

Health plan companies, such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield, have come forward against Walgreens, claiming the pharmacy purposefully inflated the prices of medications, with plaintiffs accusing Walgreens of setting prices “five, ten, or twenty times higher” than what they should’ve paid.

Despite recent attempts to highlight their health equity goals, Walgreens still has a lot to accomplish in the realm of promoting good health and wellbeing at fair prices.

Improper Waste Disposal

In the past, Walgreens has violated several environmental regulations in their illegal disposal of hazardous waste.

A seven-year investigation found that Walgreens had been improperly dumping various prescription medications, cleaners, batteries, electronics, aerosol products, and more into the receptacles bound for landfills, instead of the proper collection bins, as required by law. 

Opioid Crisis

Perhaps the most widely known Walgreens scandal was the allegations that the store, along with other large pharmacies, contributed to the opioid crisis by failing to flag inappropriate or suspicious prescriptions that contributed to drug trafficking and overdoses.

Walgreens will continue to pay out settlement fees over the course of 15 years, saying in a statement that they are “committed to being part of the solution” and “making positive contributions to address the opioid crisis”.

Walgreen's Sustainability: Karma Wallet Company Report Card

Walgreen’s Company Rating

All in all, at Karma Wallet we rate Walgreens a -1 out of 16, evaluated on 12 out of the 16 UN SDGs.

The Sector Average for other Pharmacies is a score of 6 out of 16 – showing that Walgreens has a ways to go compared to their competitors. They have set some sustainability goals for 2030, but we hope that they will continue to set ambitious targets beyond 2030 that address emissions, workers rights, and equitable healthcare.