How research pharmaceutical companies are contributing towards tackling global warming

It is scientifically proven that climate change can adversely impact human health. Understanding the relationship between people, health and the environment is critical to ensuring the pharmaceutical industry, along with other stakeholders, can contribute to decarbonisation. 
EFPIA has a working group of member companies and associations dedicated to the environment, health, safety, and sustainability. The Chair and secretariat-lead share their thoughts on how the members are working to help Europe face arguably the greatest challenge to society and achieve solutions to overcome it.
Our approach
The companies are mitigating climate change by specifically addressing the need for increased energy efficiency and lowered energy intensity across our value chains. Evidence suggests that innovation that improves health outcomes while optimizing resources also reduces carbon impacts.
Our mission is to create a collaborative environment that enables our members to innovate, discover, develop and deliver new therapies and vaccines for people across Europe; alongside, we believe that greener innovations will also help us reduce the CO2 footprint of our companies.
2022 data
This year, a new survey of EFPIA members sustainability goals and activities gives the clearest indication yet of the pharmaceutical industry’s continued commitments to making a positive impact on the lives of patients while operating sustainably towards a healthy environment. The  full data and respective graphics will be published shortly.
Companies continue to establish robust climate change policies and strategies addressing their entire value chains; pursuing science-based CO2e reduction targets; contributing to reduced energy consumption and increased energy efficiency and seeking opportunities to use energy from renewable sources throughout the value chain; and, publicly disclosing CO2 performance following recognized guidance like the World Resources Institute Greenhouse Gas Protocol.
The data received reveals clearly that concerns of climate change are a priority within EFPIA companies. All the responding companies reported long term targets for GHG emission reduction. More than 60% have already elaborated on short term targets. Most of our member companies have already raised their climate ambitions since surveyed in 2020 and over 70% have approved “Science Based Targets”, while 60% have set tight net zero ambitions.
GHG emissions from most EFPIA members can be broken down as follows:
  • 10% to 20% is related to direct on site operational activities (Scope 1 and 2 emissions[1])
  • and the remaining 80%+ are up and downstream value chain emission (Scope 3 emissions[2])
The completeness of the companies’ emissions calculations varies, however more than 80% of the companies calculate emissions following the GHG protocol and report also to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP).
Companies are at the forefront of numerous ground-breaking initiatives to help reduce CO2 emissions. To reach their ambitious goals companies have set targets for their direct operations, energy optimization and transition to renewable energy actions. These actions have led to solid results- While still working on the full evaluation of the survey we see a reduction of app. 1,5mtons of CO2, which amounts to a reduction of more than 10% over a 3-year period. Whilst in the same time-frame economic growth was significant.
The industry acknowledges and the survey revealed that most of its GHG emissions are in our supply chain and multiple paths for decarbonization are being developed and implemented to reduce scope 3 emissions in the value chain with creative solutions. These include "Green buildings" and carbon neutral production units, use of circular economy and "Green chemistry" principles, recycling of solvents, use of modern refrigerants and, increasingly, low carbon medicaments / vaccines. 95% of the EFPIA companies indicated they engage directly with their suppliers on climate reduction actions.
The pharmaceutical Industry also undertakes initiatives to promote climate action by supporting: 
  • The principles in UN Global Compact regarding climate[3];
  • United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goal 13, aiming for urgent action to be taken to combat climate change and its impacts;
  • The Paris Climate Accord approved at COP21 by supporting the long-term goal to hold the increase in global average temperatures well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C;
  • The European Union’s ambition to be climate neutral by 2050;
  • Adoption of a global framework (based on COP26 and upcoming COP27) to accelerate emission target actions by updating the “nationally determined contributions (NDCs)" and realizing short-term targets by 2030.
The pharmaceutical industry is considered a low impact sector (FTSE4Good) when it comes to greenhouse gas (GHG)* emissions however we know there is still more we can do. When we evaluated carefully the global emission data of our companies in the survey it became evident that compared to high impact sectors[4] such as steel[5], cement[6], chemicals[7] and mining[8], the global GHG emissions from EFPIA member companies[9] are about 10 times lower in absolute emissions. Our data will be available via the EFPIA web page. Comparing intensity data[10] the difference is even more significant as EFPIA member companies indicate an intensity of 24 (tCO2e/€m).
We applaud company driven initiatives coming out of the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Seven pharmaceutical manufacturers announced[11] their pledge to work together to reduce carbon emissions in supply chains, healthcare delivery and clinical trials, saying a joint effort will enable the industry to achieve more than individual companies could alone. The Activate program[12] was launched to accelerate decarbonization in active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) supply chains whereby global pharmaceutical companies are working with supply chains to enable environmental impact reduction of the healthcare sector. The energize program[13] launched at COP26 has continued to expand and achieve its goals to accelerate renewable energy adoption and enable bold climate action within the pharmaceutical value chain.
But we know there is more we can do:
Our member companies will continue to take significant actions to address climate change to address global planetary health and the transition towards a low carbon economy.  In a time of complex challenges the green agenda remains a priority. Through collaboration we can move industry forward, protecting patients and the planet.
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Thanks to Anja Møller Asgaard, Lundbeck

The GHG Protocol Corporate Standard classifies a company’s GHG emissions into three ‘scopes’. Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions from owned or controlled sources. Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy.
Scope 3 emissions are all indirect emissions (not included in Scope 2) that occur in the value chain of the reporting company, including both upstream and downstream emissions.
[4] As a basis for all global emissions the UNFCCC dataset was used, upscale was necessary due to fact that all sectors in focus data was only fully available for Annex I countries, last dataset available for 2019
[9] Global Emissions of EFPIA Members, research driven pharmaceutical companies including Big Pharma were evaluated during the survey 2022 for the last years. (Scope 1, Scope 2, Scope 3)
[10] Data is based on the EFPIA survey 2022 and comparing with the 10 biggest companies of the respective sector.

Kirsty Reid

Kirsty Reid  is the Director for Science Policy at EFPIA. She is team leader and Science Policy...
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Reinhold Maeck

Chair of the EFPIA EHS expert group and Senior EHS Manager, Boehringer Ingelheim.
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