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Speech: Life sciences companies can be part of the cure for climate change

The ABPI's Vice President Pinder Sahota spoke to the Pharma Sustainability Integrates conference today on how the pharmaceutical industry is contributing to the sustainability agenda. 

In our industry we’ve faced global health challenges before and found solutions. I firmly believe that life science companies can be part of the cure for climate change too. Pinder Sahota, ABPI Vice President

(Version as delivered) 

Good morning everyone and thank you for having me at Pharma Sustainability Integrates.

And it’s great that this important conference has Ministerial support from George Freeman.

Climate change is one of the biggest issues that we face right now; it’s good to hear that it’s right at the top of the Government’s agenda and they recognise the scale of the challenge.

COP26 in November was a milestone event. It provided more evidence – not that any was needed – that in every part of our lives we are facing a climate crisis.

Every area of our lives is going to need to change if we are to tackle the big environmental challenges we face.

Pharmaceutical companies are working on this too.

Right now, companies all around the world are challenging ourselves to rethink our business and our supply chains to help create a lower-carbon future.

One that not only avoids harming the planet, but actively improves the health and well-being of patient populations all over the world.  

Industry commitment

We know that the health of patients is tied to the health of the planet: Climate change, air pollution and other environmental challenges are having an impact on patient and public health around the world.

I hope that COP27, in November this year, will have a greater emphasis on the health crisis climate change is causing.

As global health providers, we know have a responsibility and duty of care to respond to future patient needs, whilst minimizing our impact on the planet. 

Examples of industry already taking action are everywhere. For example:

Companies are increasingly switching to renewable energy.

In medicines discovery – we’re seeing companies creating greener labs, with low-carbon refrigeration and reduced use of chemicals. 

In clinical trials – we’ve seen streamlined delivery of clinical trial products to reduce air and freight miles.

In manufacturing – we’re seeing companies use green chemistry to minimise the amount of chemicals, power and water they need to use to create medicine, while still increasing yield and efficacy for patients.

Companies are also working on biodiversity – creating plans to maximise local wildlife. 

We’re also seeing wastewater from manufacturing being recycled and returned to be used again, meeting all of the strict quality requirements in the process.

Companies are also working hard to reduce packaging, as well as creating packaging from plant-derived materials, and introducing plastic packaging and device ‘take-back schemes’.


All this is important, but there is still so much to do to make a real impact on our environmental footprint.

Crucially, we need to have harmonised global standards, so that there is a clear, transparent way for global companies make progress.

Making supply chains greener is also a key priority, because that is where the majority of a companies’ carbon impact lies.

The pandemic taught us some lessons to be able to do both of these things.

There was greater use of online appointments with patients, and remote clinical trials.

And greater co-operation between regulatory authorities, which helped with vaccine approvals around the world.  

We can use some of the lessons from the pandemic and adapt them to the climate challenge, which is a global problem needing similarly global solutions.

It is critical that the industry is actively engaged in creating them.

There are a lot of questions we’re still trying answer.

How do we achieve the best environmental outcome for countries around the world? Whatever we do to achieve Net Zero in one country cannot be at the expense of increasing emissions elsewhere.

How do we make sure that the regulatory community will accept changes to what we do? We’re one of the most highly regulated industries in the world, and safety is paramount.

When we change the way we do things, we need regulatory approval. How we collaborate with regulators to achieve safe AND lower carbon products, at speed, is really important.

Most of all, how do we balance patient choice with the need to go green?

Moving patients onto different, more environmentally friendly products can be more difficult than it sounds, because the product might look different, or need to be used in a different way.

We need to bring patients with us when we innovate for new, greener products, that may take some getting used to for some people. 

We don’t have all the answers to these questions yet, but we know we need to be part of a conversation with Governments, the NHS, and the global regulatory community to solve them.

And we also know, that like other global challenges, it will be essential for industry to work together in partnership.

I can’t emphasise the need for collaboration enough.  

Companies have launched a new programme called Energize to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the pharmaceutical industry.

It is a collaboration between Schneider Electric and 10 global pharmaceutical companies (including mine) for the benefit of our supply chain.

We hope to engage hundreds of suppliers in climate action and decarbonisation of the pharmaceutical value chain.

The programme is a major effort to use the scale of a single industry’s global supply chain to drive system level change.

Many companies, including mine, are also collaborating as part of the International Leadership Group for a Net Zero NHS. 

We are firmly committed to helping the NHS meet its ambitious goal of net zero carbon by 2045 for supply chain emissions.


In conclusion, the solutions must be global, and will require globally harmonised standards.

However, the UK can play a leading role in green healthcare innovation.

As George Freeman mentioned, we’re currently in a green industrial revolution.

Our industry is investing in research that will deliver new solutions to environmental challenges, including new types of gas for inhalers.

Getting the right policies in place, such as incentives for lower carbon manufacturing and the greening of supply chains, will help us go further and faster.  

We also need to see greater help for smaller businesses. Many smaller companies are already environmental pioneers, but we need to make sure that support is there for the smaller players should they need it.

In our industry we’ve faced global health challenges before and found solutions.

I firmly believe that life science companies can be part of the cure for climate change too.

Thank you very much for having me, and I’ll now hand over to Sir Jim McDonald of the University of Strathclyde, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the event. 

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Last modified: 20 September 2023

Last reviewed: 20 September 2023

The ABPI exists to make the UK the best place in the world to research, develop and use new medicines. We represent companies of all sizes who invest in discovering the medicines of the future. 

Our members supply cutting edge treatments that improve and save the lives of millions of people. We work in partnership with Government and the NHS so patients can get new treatments faster and the NHS can plan how much it spends on medicines. Every day, we partner with organisations in the life sciences community and beyond to transform lives across the UK.