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Flying, fashion, pharma? How the pharmaceutical industry is trying to reduce emissions

ten of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies have pledged to improve their energy efficiency.
ten of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies have pledged to improve their energy efficiency.   -   Copyright  Andre Penner / AP
By Sinead Barry

The pharmaceutical industry has been in the news more than ever since early 2020, as competing companies raced to produce the first COVID-19 vaccine. But now they’re shifting their attention to the other emergency we all face: the climate crisis.

Today ten of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies have pledged to improve their energy efficiency. AstraZeneca, Biogen, GSK, Johnson & Johnson, MSD, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Sanofi, and Takeda are all part of the programme, called Energize.

“Every business should be moving aggressively towards using 100% renewable electricity, and supporting their supply chains to do the same.”
Sam Kimmins, Head of RE100, Climate Group

Energy transformation firm Schneider Electric is running the initiative to support pharmaceutical companies to reduce their environmental impact. It’s been a big year for the French firm, having been named the world’s most sustainable corporation by the green capitalist research organisation, Corporate Knights.

“Every business should be moving aggressively towards using 100% renewable electricity, and supporting their supply chains to do the same,” says Sam Kimmins, Head of RE100, Climate Group.

How polluting is the pharmaceutical industry?

Researchers at the W Booth School of Engineering Practice & Technology found that the pharmaceutical industry is 55% more emissions-intensive than the car industry. Producing life-saving medicines, it turns out, is incredibly energy-intensive. As well as the energy needed to make products, labs have to be extremely hygienic, which uses a lot of water and chemicals, and precise temperatures have to be maintained. Add to this the problem that most products have to be thrown away after one use for safety reasons.

How will AstraZeneca and the others transform their energy use?

Often in profit-driven firms, investment in sustainable alternatives is simply not on the radar of decision-makers. Corporations involved in this programme will be introduced to the renewable energy market to try to overcome some basic market barriers like inadequate knowledge and confusion in complex renewable energy contracting processes.

As part of Energize, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and other pharmaceutical heavyweights will be given the opportunity to buy renewable energy contracts. Companies can choose to contract green energy supplies by themselves or as one collaboration.

At the moment, Energize does not include any binding agreements. Pharmaceutical corporations are going to be advised in renewable transitions and given opportunities to go green. But the extent to which they will implement these transformations remains to be seen.

Commenting on ‘Energy Day’ at COP26 “where representatives from around the globe come together to accelerate action towards the mitigation of climate change,” Susan Uthayakumar, President, Sustainable Business at Schneider Electric said, “We’re honoured to launch the Energize program and collaborate with the pharmaceutical industry to drive emissions reductions, ultimately benefiting both people and our planet.”