How can pharmaceutical companies be more sustainable?

The pharmaceutical industry is a key component of the global economy, driving medical research while improving the well-being of patients around the world. Yet the pharmaceutical industry also has a surprisingly high carbon footprint; emitting 13% more carbon emissions than car manufacturing and generating 52 million tons of CO2 globally, even though the automotive market is 28% smaller. Furthermore, emissions are poorly reported; of the 200 companies that make up the global pharmaceutical market, in the past 5 years only 25 have recorded their direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) interprets an environmentally sustainable health system as one that ‘improves, maintains or restores health, while minimising negative impacts on the environment and leveraging opportunities to restore and improve it, to the benefit of the health and well-being of current and future generations’.

The main factors that contribute towards carbon emissions in the pharmaceutical industry is high energy consumption and the variability between companies. For example, when comparing two companies of similar magnitude e.g. generating the same level of revenue and marketing similar lines of products, Procter & Gamble’s CO2 emissions were 5 times more than that of Johnson & Johnson. In order to reduce their carbon footprint, companies should seek to maximise their energy efficiency.

In addition to high levels of CO2 being produced, pharmaceutical companies play a large part in creating environmental pollution. In Patancheru, India, 44 kilograms of ciprofloxacin (a broad-spectrum antibiotic) is released into the river everyday, which is enough to treat 44,000 people. The ciprofloxacin not only pollutes the river, but affects the quality of the drinking water, the groundwater and even contaminates the river sediment.

Companies can combat this by investing more money into research and development of greener alternatives, not only decreasing the use of harmful substances, but introducing the use of more renewable and eco-friendly materials. A ‘greener’ supply chain can be beneficial for a company’s overall costs, as well as reducing its carbon footprint.

Here are some pharmaceutical companies that have taken on new green initiatives to decrease their carbon footprint and tackle their negative impact on the planet.

Astra-Zeneca, the British-Swedish pharmaceutical and biotechnology company, has been recognised for reducing emissions, cutting climate risks and overseeing water resources more sustainably. The CDP, an international non-profit organisation that focuses on global environmental impact, presented Astra-Zeneca with an accolade to demonstrate that it achieved ‘the gold standard of corporate environmental transparency’. Astra-Zeneca also received, for the fourth year in a row, a double ‘A’ listing from the CDP, and have publicised how they plan to fast forward their decarbonisation plans by a decade and invest up to $1 billion to reach their existing targets regarding science.

Next, the Danish multinational pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, plans to focus more on re-using, recycling and repurposing products, in order to reduce waste. Despite using large amounts of energy, water and raw materials to produce their products, they have taken on a new greener outlook. Instead of following the traditional linear economy, they seek to center themselves around their ‘Circular for Zero’ strategy, adopting a more regenerative approach, helping tackle climate change.

Pfizer, an American pharmaceutical company, and signatory of the UN Global Compact, has reached its five year goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% after only four years. Furthermore, Pfizer has focused more on using renewable energy; installing a two megawatt wind turbine that powers 10% of the electricity needed at its facility in Puurs, Belgium. The company has also attained a sustainable energy accreditation for its administrative office buildings in both Toluca, Mexico and Dubai, UAE.

Another pharmaceutical company that places sustainability at the forefront of their business strategy is Helsinn, which specialises in cancer care and rare diseases. With an objective to reduce its carbon footprint to ‘almost zero’, Helsinn has vowed to improve its highly compliant integrated manufacturing system and use its supply chain to achieve products that will be available to as many patients as possible.

Finally Sanofi, a French pharmaceutical company, and the world’s fifth largest based on prescription sales, aims to become carbon neutral by 2050, and is rolling out initiatives on recycling, reusing or recovering more waste materials. Sanofi plans to recover 90% of waste generated by 2025, and is already 73% of the way there. Furthermore, the company’s landfill waste has cut to 8% and it intends to get this figure to just 1% within the next five years.

Since April 2021, ethiXbase has been working with Sonova, a Swiss company specialising in hearing care solutions. Working closely with Sonova’s compliance committee, ethiXbase has helped Sonova collect any missing information from completed due diligence questionnaires by working closely with the requesters at the business, helping Sonova eliminate potential risks.

“Sustainability is incredibly important for any pharmaceutical company. As technology advances, and companies come under increasing pressure to prove what steps they’re taking to lessen their environmental impact, pharmaceutical companies will need to develop new and improved techniques to demonstrate compliance, as well as their sustainability credentials,” says Sarah Cliffe, Pharmaceuticals Account Manager at ethiXbase.

At ethiXbase, we focus on combining our experience with your company to elevate sustainability in your supply chain, helping large pharmaceutical corporations to make improvements and embrace both environmentally friendly and socially responsible practices. We recently introduced GreenLITE, a new ESG and risk management solution designed to use research and analysis to recognise potential ESG risks, involvement in past controversies, and gaps in sustainability.

GreenLITE equips businesses like yours with the data, analysis and tools required to make  improvements and provides a holistic summary of your ESG supply chain risk profile. To learn more about our ESG solutions, visit our website or request a free demo to discover how ethiXbase can positively impact your business.

Article by Penelope Short.

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