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Global action needed to secure the era of green pharmaceuticals - new report

Immediate action must be taken by governments, health systems and companies to secure the era of green pharmaceuticals, according to a new report published today by the Office of Health Economics (OHE), commissioned by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI).


The report ‘Supporting the era of green pharmaceuticals in the UK, highlights that while the UK can play a leading role in the sustainability agenda for pharmaceuticals, actions must also be global to ensure impact.

Estimates of the share of health service carbon emissions attributable to pharmaceuticals vary from 12–35% as different studies take different measures of the NHS carbon footprint as the total. 


As with many other sectors, the majority (70-90%) of the emissions of most pharmaceutical companies are outside of the direct control of the company.


Pharmaceutical companies have made commitments to play their role in reaching net zero targets and are investing across their businesses to achieve the targets. However, in order to deliver, several significant challenges must be overcome, requiring action from the Government, the NHS and industry.


ABPI Chief Executive Richard Torbett said:


“Sustainability is a massive and growing part of pharmaceutical companies’ work. We see environmental action being taken by member companies across the world – from investing in renewable energy to low-carbon inhalers to net-zero buildings.

“Although companies are not waiting to take action and are moving quickly to reduce their environmental impact, as this report demonstrates, they face some key challenges in the drive for sustainability which they cannot address alone.”

“It’s crucial that companies, Government and the NHS work together to solve them to accelerate progress.”

The report shows that companies face five key challenges in the drive for Net Zero, on safety, regulatory standards, low success rates in pharmaceutical R&D, the changing nature of innovation and the fact that healthcare systems do not currently reward sustainability.


The challenges are solvable with action from the UK Government, the NHS and companies and the report includes recommendations for all three.


  • The recommendations for Government include taking a lead in areas like grid decarbonisation and international alignment on regulatory and reporting standards.
  • For the NHS, they include building environmental sustainability into procurement decision making, so that decisions can be made on more than just cost.
  • For industry, recommendations include disclosure of sustainability metrics and investment in product-level life-cycle assessment.

Graham Cookson, Chief Executive of the Office of Health Economics (OHE) and co-author of the report said:


“Healthcare has a significant impact on the environment, and it is time that this is recognised in the decision-making process. Without better structures for decision-making the market will continue to generate myopic incentives for innovation with little regard for the environmental impact.

“This report demonstrates how the UK government, the NHS, and pharmaceutical companies can take action to reduce the environmental footprint of pharmaceuticals. We cannot continue to develop lifesaving therapies in a vacuum – global action must be taken to ensure that we do not save lives by killing the planet. Green pharmaceuticals must become the norm, and we welcome the opportunity to continue to work with industry on this.”

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Last Updated: 10-Nov-2022