How are pharma companies addressing sustainability and climate change?

By Liza Laws

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images
© Getty Images

Related tags sustainability Climate change Global warming Greenhouse gas

The pharmaceutical industry is making significant strides toward sustainability, with companies across the sector implementing various Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) initiatives.

These efforts are driven by the need for transparency, compliance, and sustainability in response to pressures from stakeholders, including investors, regulators, and consumers. In this piece, industry experts share their insights on the actions being taken and the challenges faced in this important area.

Insights from industry leaders:

Nic Nunn-Faron, nonprofit & local government advisory senior manager at BDO

“The pharmaceutical industry is increasingly recognizing the importance of ESG programs, not just within their own operations but throughout their supply chains. As big pharmaceutical companies ramp up their ESG initiatives, there is a growing push for Contract Development and Manufacturing Organizations (CDMOs) to follow suit. This shift is not merely a trend, but a necessity driven by the demand for transparency, compliance, and sustainability.

Nic Nunn-Faron

Pharmaceutical giants are under pressure from stakeholders to demonstrate their commitment to ESG principles. These companies rely heavily on CDMOs, making it imperative for these organizations to align with their clients' ESG goals. By developing robust ESG programs, CDMOs can ensure they meet stringent requirements, fostering stronger, more sustainable partnerships.

“Implementing ESG programs can provide CDMOs with a competitive edge. As the industry moves towards more sustainable practices, those who proactively adopt ESG measures will likely be preferred partners. This not only enhances their marketability but also contributes to a more sustainable and ethical pharmaceutical supply chain.

“BDO can play a pivotal role in this transformation. With extensive experience in ESG consulting, BDO can assist CDMOs in developing comprehensive ESG strategies that align with industry standards and client expectations.”

Brendon Marks, CEO of Capture H2O


“My company develops water conservation projects with biotech companies and biotech landlords including Genentech, Alexandria Real Estate, BioMed, etc.

“With regards to water conservation goals, biotech firms and landlords are laser-focused on achieving their ambitious 2030 and 2035 goals. Many set 25%+ reduction goals in 2020 and are continuing to dedicate significant resources to achieving these goals. We have seen this with multiple cooling water conservation projects being approved recently in Northern and Southern California.”

Rebecca Marquez, director of customer research at PMMI

Rebecca Marquez

“Early adopters in the pharmaceutical industry are prioritizing eco-friendly sourcing, packaging, energy efficiency, and waste reduction, setting the stage for others to follow. Manufacturers striving for climate-neutral production and issuing annual sustainability reports aligned with Global Reporting Initiative Standards reflect a broader commitment to environmental responsibility.

“Pharmaceutical manufacturers are increasingly adopting sustainable practices, focusing on refining packaging, improving energy efficiency, and lightweighting materials. They align with ESG policies to save energy and reduce carbon footprints. Suppliers are developing innovative products like mono-material structures, metal-free nasal pumps, and recyclable blister films.”

Dean Selna, senior vice president at JLL’s life sciences work dynamics team


“Life sciences companies are making significant commitments toward reducing their environmental impact through multi-year planning that includes landfill waste diversion, lab plastic recycling, and working with building automation and equipment replacement. These companies are actively taking steps to minimize their carbon footprint and promote a more sustainable future.

“Life sciences companies are embracing building automation technologies to optimize energy usage and equipment replacement. By utilizing advanced automation systems, these companies can monitor and control energy consumption, reducing their carbon footprint and controlling costs.”

Courtney Soulsby, global director, healthcare & life sciences at British Standards Institute (BSI)


“Pharma companies are taking a multi-pronged approach to tackling sustainability, putting dedicated teams to focus on carbon accounting, reporting, and reduction – with a specific focus on engaging and building capacity within suppliers for Scope 3 emissions. They are further motivated by evolving environment requirements of the financial investment community and their customers.

“Leading pharmaceutical companies are working together with other stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem – procurers, NGOs, regulators – through independent bodies such as BSI, to drive collaborative progress in sustainability. BSI is supporting to build consensus across the system through best practice standards.”

Sean Baldry, director of product marketing at Cority

“The global pharmaceutical industry is responsible for approximately 52 megatons of CO₂ emissions annually from its direct operations, excluding supply chain emissions. A 2019 McMaster University study found that the pharmaceutical sector's GHG emissions are higher than the automotive industry, despite being smaller in market size.

Sean Baldry

“Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly embracing sustainable practices despite regulatory gaps. Key areas include green chemistry, sustainable sourcing, waste minimization, energy efficiency, green packaging, and extended producer responsibility. Companies like Abbott, Amgen, AstraZeneca, and Novartis are setting ambitious sustainability targets and integrating sustainability into their operations.”

These perspectives highlight just some of the diverse and comprehensive approaches being taken by the pharmaceutical industry to address sustainability. From water conservation and waste management to energy efficiency and ESG alignment, the sector is actively working towards a more sustainable future.

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