Climate Change and Pharma
Climate change has been an impending threat to planet Earth for the past several decades. The most significant offenders are often attributed to the industrial fields, including the mining, automotive, and energy sectors. These industries could undoubtedly make a positive impact on climate change with a lessened carbon footprint. However, other sectors that may be culprits have flown under the radar, including the pharmaceutical industry.
A recent study found that pharmaceuticals account for 16.25 percent of our total carbon footprint. This statistic ranks Pharma as the most significant contributor to CO2 emissions out of all industries, even the automotive sector1. A report found that pharmaceuticals emit 48.55 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) for every million dollars. This output is 55 percent more than what the automotive industry emits, which was roughly 31 CO2e per million in the same year2. The findings are striking – and represent an immediate need for change.
The United Nation’s Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty that aims to mitigate climate change. It includes reduction targets that, if met by the pharma sector, would require reductions in emission intensity of 59 percent from the levels in 20152. While this is a massive undertaking for the pharmaceutical world, several potential solutions exist.
Pharma can minimize its footprint by reducing emissions and waste, practicing sustainability, and investing in renewable energy. For example, several medicinal products that these companies produce can adversely affect the environment. Inhalers, for instance, contain greenhouse gases. These greenhouse gases trap heat, thus increasing the planet’s temperature. In the case of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), inhalers contribute to 45 percent of all its emissions. Leveraging lower-emission inhalers could significantly decrease the production of greenhouse gases3.
In terms of sustainability, Pharma is the culprit of environmental pollution, high energy consumption, and diverse supply chains. To mitigate the environmental impacts of these shortcomings, Pharma will need to focus its efforts on creating green supply chains and materials. To do so, pharmaceutical companies may look to receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. LEED provides a framework for developing greener buildings, accounting for things such as energy efficiency and waste collection.
Pharma may also find it challenging to adapt their chemistry and packaging to become greener in the world of stringent regulations. For example, single-use products may often require excess packaging, representing a significant cause of waste. Innovation is needed to develop and utilize recyclable materials. Pharma companies should also implement mitigation measures to minimize the effects of pharmaceutical substances on the environment. These strategies involve lessening waste, decreasing the use of hazardous substances, and ensuring the safety of a company’s employees and the environment.
The pharmaceutical industry can do a lot of good in the context of preventing and treating disease. However, Pharma has a long road ahead when it comes to developing greener and more sustainable practices. As the leading contributor to CO2 emissions, it is imperative that pharmaceutical companies assess and address the impact of their businesses on climate change.