Home CATEGORIES Environment What is Big Pharma doing to tackle Climate Change?

What is Big Pharma doing to tackle Climate Change?

Recognising that climate change is a global concern, big pharma is taking action at a global level. Pharmaceutical corporations are already working on initiatives to reduce carbon emissions across their own operations and value chains, invest in renewable electricity and energy efficiency measures, recycle and cut water use and on bespoke projects which will impact positively on the environment.
80% of the largest innovative pharma companies have set net-zero or carbon-neutrality targets and many more have committed to ambitious short-term greenhouse gas emissions reduction efforts. Pharmaceutical companies are committed to reducing operational waste from their sites, as well as reducing waste from the packaging of products. This can involve increasing recycling, replacing paper-based patient information leaflets with online versions, and increasing the recycled content in packaging.
Reducing waste from packaging is one of their biggest challenges, and the biopharmaceutical industry is working to solve it by working with regulators and Governments, and investing in research and new technologies. Pharma companies are using green chemistry principles and changing the way they manufacture products to reduce the total environmental impact of creating medicines. This can often mean reduce carbon emissions, saving water and cutting waste all at the same time.

Climate change action of top pharma companies 

By reformulating medicines so they can be manufactured in a more environmentally friendly way, pharma companies are reducing carbon emissions, saving water and waste and reducing the total environmental impact of what they do.

1. Novartis

The production of some types of medicine requires solvents and, in several cases, precious metal catalysts with very high greenhouse gas impact. In most of Novartis’s manufacturing facilities they recover, recycle and re-use solvents and catalysts. For two pilot compounds Novartis was able to demonstrate a recovery rate of 75-85% of two precious metals, with potential savings of 20,000 tonnes of CO2 by 2030.
The company is also using cutting-edge technologies to reduce the volume of materials required to produce drug substances. These have the potential to save 5 million tonnes of CO2 by 2030.
Novartis has set a target for full carbon neutrality in its own operations by 2025, and net zero across its value chain by 2040. One project has consolidated medication shipments and saved emissions in more than 40 clinical trials. From 2021 Novartis will avoid an average of 18,000 shipments per year saving approximately 1,400 tonnes of CO2 annually. Novartis ‘Green Expectations from Suppliers Framework’ and a Global Environmental Sustainability team are promoting ethical behaviours and fostering sustainability in their supply chain.
By 2025, Novartis aims to reduce water consumption in their operations by half versus 2016, with no water quality impacts from manufacturing waste, and aim to be water neutral by 2030. They have built a new wastewater treatment plant in Romania, equipped with the latest carbon-filter technology to better purify water from active pharmaceutical ingredients.

2. Orion

Orion corporation has worked to reduce its carbon footprint with numerous energy efficiency projects, and in 2019 moved to 100% renewable electricity in Finland. Orion has made a further commitment to achieve carbon neutrality in its own operations by 2030.
One strategic aim is to tackle the carbon impact of inhalers. Orion produces propellant-free powdered inhalers only, which have a carbon footprint 10-37 times lower than pressurised metered-dose inhalers. It has worked to minimise direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions across its own operations, and that of its suppliers, within the products life cycle. Remaining unavoidable emissions have been offset through projects that protect the world’s lungs, including reforestation in the UK.

3. Takeda

Takeda used green chemistry to create a more environmentally sustainable way to manufacture one of its molecules. The new manufacturing process results in 78% less waste, 93% less organic solvent used and 46% less water. Overall yield is increased from 35% to 56%.
By 2024, key suppliers will have science-based carbon reduction targets. By 2025, Takeda commits to reducing 40% of GHG emissions in its own operations through a combination of renewable energy purchases, including large-scale power purchase agreements and an aggressive internal energy management program which was initiated in 2020, and  15% of Scope 3 emissions through educating and influencing suppliers.
By 2040, Takeda commits to being  net zero and has already reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 51% for Scope 1 and 2 since 2016. Streamlining its supply chain and distribution networks, for example by reducing the number of distribution centres used, Takeda has saved enough energy to power 3,131 houses for a year. It also increased truck load fill from 60% to 85%, reducing the need for 250 trucks, the equivalent of enough energy to charge 3.1 million smartphones.
Takeda aims to achieve a 5% reduction in water consumption by FY2025 (relative to FY2019) levels. One example of their work has been the introduction of a project to recycle wastewater at their manufacturing site in Lessines, Belgium. For this, they have teamed up with Belgian company Ekopak, whose technology makes the treatment and re-use of rainwater and wastewater possible on a large scale. At Lessines, this means that 600,000 m3 of water could be recycled and returned for use in manufacturing, meeting all of the strict quality requirements in the process. This is 90% of the site’s entire freshwater consumption.

4. Novo Nordisk

Novo Nordisk is driving change to defeat diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases. It also has the aim of reducing its environmental impact to zero by 2030 – from plastics to energy, water, and waste to CO2 –the Circular for Zero strategy. Right now, Novo Nordisk runs all production on renewable energy and is talking to all its supply partners about switching to renewable energy by 2030.
It is also continually investigating new ways to tackle the industry-wide problem of how to stop millions of plastic injection pens ending up in landfill each year, with a project that sees these turned into chairs made from the plastic and other parts made into lamps from the glass.

5. Janssen

Janssen makes the active ingredients of some medicines at its chemical production site in Geel, Belgium. Their Plant on a Truck initiative recycles waste chemicals. This approach means Janssen saves around 500 tonnes of CO2 emissions and recycles around 100 tonnes of chemicals annually.
Plant on a Truck (working with InOpSys) treats process water locally in a mobile purification plant, which allows it to reuse useful materials, destroy toxic ingredients and purify the water. It is currently using this concept to recover zinc from the process water from a drug for type 2 diabetes, for example. The company then uses this zinc again in the production process.

6. Lundbeck

At its pharmaceutical production in Denmark, Lundbeck introduced ‘cyclic planning’, which reduces the use of materials and the amount of waste generated in production. In their liquid product production, they reduced packaging waste by 83%. This is equivalent to 1.4 million pieces less waste in the form of cartons, labels or leaflets. They are making preparations to introduce cyclic planning solid products too where the reduction potential is even greater.

7. Boehringer Ingelheim

Boehringer Ingelheim developed a reusable asthma inhaler that can be used with up to 6 medication cartridges before needing replacement, resulting in large reductions of plastic waste and CO2 emissions. It is propellant-free, meaning its CO2 emissions are 20 times lower than those of commonly used pressurized metered-dose inhalers. By 2025, it is expected that 776 tonnes of plastic waste and 14,300 tonnes of CO2 emissions will be prevented as a result. 776 tonnes of plastic waste equals more than 77.6 million 0.5-liter PET plastic bottles.

Explainer: What are Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions?

Greenhouse gas emissions are categorised into three groups or ‘scopes’ by the most widely-used international accounting tool, the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol.
Scope 1 covers emissions that a company makes directly – for example while running its boilers and vehicles. Pharmaceutical companies are reducing Scope 1 emissions, for example by generating their own renewable energy, moving to electric vehicles and changing their international distribution networks to minimise emissions.
Scope 2 emissions cover those that the company makes indirectly – like when the electricity it uses, is produced on its behalf by a different company. Pharmaceutical companies are reducing Scope 2 emissions, by switching to renewable energy suppliers. Some either run completely on renewable energy or are working towards it.
Scope 3 emissions cover those are not generated by the company itself, but by any organisation or person they are indirectly responsible for. For example, Scope 3 emissions cover those generated from the suppliers of the components used to make medicines, the transport of raw materials and those generated by people using the pharmaceutical company’s products. To tackle Scope 3 emissions, many companies are looking at the entire life-cycle of the way they manufacture medicines.