Big Pharma’s Big Plans to Combat Climate Change

Submitted by admin on Fri, 22/04/2022 - 11:19

If you asked someone who they thought were the main contributors to climate change the answers would likely include energy companies and automotive industries, right? Not everyone thinks of the role that the pharmaceutical industry plays, even though it contributed 55% more CO2 than the automotive industry in 2015.1 In 2019, the manufacture of pharmaceuticals and chemicals was the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions within the NHS England.2  

The policies addressing the effect of climate change caused by healthcare have been increasingly discussed in the media including at the recent UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) that took place in Glasgow in November 2021. This resulted in a Joint Industry Statement from major voices in the pharmaceutical industry, including the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), announcing initiatives to address climate change by cutting carbon emissions, saving water, cutting waste, and incorporating environmentally stable manufacturing into their products.3  

But what have pharmaceutical companies been working on already? Like us, many are setting targets based on the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) while supporting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the EU’s ambition to be climate neutral by 2050.4  

Often pharma companies roll these goals into their own climate change strategies; for example, Novartis has strategic objectives including the recycling of solvents and precious metal catalysts,5 the latter predicted to save 20,000 tons of CO2 by 2030.6  

Novo Nordisk joined the RE100 in 2015 and set the bar by achieving its goal in 2020 to use only renewable electricity across its global production facilities. This resulted in a new target to achieve zero carbon emissions from all operations and transport by 2030, which will also involve redesigning all existing and future products with recyclable or re-usable materials, minimizing consumption and waste, and only working with sustainable suppliers.7,8 

Sanofi also joined the RE100 with the goal to use 100% renewable electricity across all global operations and to reduce their greenhouse gas contributions by 55% by 2030, of which they have already achieved a 27% reduction in their emissions since 2015.9  

AstraZeneca gave themselves a similar timeframe to eliminate emissions by 2025 and be carbon negative across the entire value chain by 2030 as part of their “Ambition Zero Carbon” strategy. This includes the development of next-generation respiratory inhalers with near-zero global warming potential propellants, and the planting of 50 million trees in the “AZ forest” over the next 5 years in partnership with One Tree Plants, a non-profit organization focused on global reforestation.10 

Another company contributing to sustainability is P&G. In line with their Ambition 2030 goals, 73% of their primary packaging is now recyclable and 97% of their electricity is renewable. They have also reported being on track to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030 and committed to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.11  

Similarly, Johnson & Johnson is working towards its Health for Humanity 2025 Goals, thereby contributing to the 11 UN’s SDGs. In particular, by 2025, they aim for all of their electricity to come from renewable sources, and by 2030, they aim for carbon neutrality and up to a 60% reduction in emissions from the levels observed in 2016.12 

Both Eli Lilly & Merck & Co aim to shift global transportation from air to sea freight,13,14 as this has a substantially lower carbon footprint. GlaxoSmithKline recently announced a £50m investment in renewable energy and carbon reduction at major UK and US manufacturing sites.15 

Most companies in the industry report their environmental impact to the Carbon Disclosure Project to increase transparency with the public. The environmental impact of the pharmaceutical industry’s supply chain is also important to consider and is being made easier to follow with tools like EcoVadis that helps to assess a supply chain's sustainability. 

At AS&K we have already taken our own steps to tackle climate change. Our office is powered by renewable energy, there are incentives to use electric vehicles and low emission transport, and, thanks to the global pandemic, we mainly meet with clients using video conferencing. We’ve set our own SBTi targets, and as a low emissions agency we can play our part in making big pharma’s supply chain footprint that bit smaller. 

As the world opens up again, we will continue to be smart about our choices of transport and be creative in our ideas to make our clients’ future events as green as possible in collaboration with their sustainable strategies, because we all need to be kinder to the planet. 


  1. Belkhir L and Elmeligi A. J Clean Prod. 2019;214:185–194. 
  2. Tennison I, et al. Lancet Planet Health. 2021;5:e84–92. 
  3. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry: Drive to Net Zero: How pharmaceutical companies are helping the fight against climate change. Available at: Accessed April 2022. 
  4. European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations. EFPIA White Paper on Climate Change 2020. Available at: Accessed April 2022.
  5. Novartis. Novartis Environmental Sustainability Strategy. Available at: Accessed April 2022.
  6. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. Sustainability by design. Available at: Accessed April 2022.
  7. Novo Nordisk. Zero environmental impact. Available at: Accessed April 2022.
  8. Energy Live© News. Novo Nordisk achieves 100% renewable power goal. Available at: Accessed April 2022.
  9. Sanofi. How Sanofi is building a sustainable environment. Available at: Accessed April 2022.
  10. AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca’s ‘Ambition Zero Carbon’ strategy. Available at: Accessed April 2022.
  11. P&G. Earth Day 2022: It’s Our Home. Available at: Accessed April 2022.
  12. Johnson & Johnson. Our Societal Impact. Available at: Accessed April 2022.
  13. Lilly. 2020 ESG Report. Available at: Accessed April 2022.
  14. Merck group. Climate Action; part of the non-financial report. Available at: Accessed April 2022.
  15. GlaxoSmithKline Press Release. GSK announces major renewable energy investment and low carbon inhaler programme alongside Life Sciences sector Race to Zero ‘breakthrough’ at NYC Climate Week. Available at: Accessed April 2022. 
Author name and role
April Inskip and Edita Pileckyte - Medical Content Team
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Earth Day - What is Pharma doing to reduce CO2 emissions