Paving the way to sustainability: transforming pharmaceutical industry practices

By Roz Bekker, Managing Director Janssen UK & Ireland, ABPI Sustainability Board Sponsor

With COP28 well underway, the sense of responsibility and commitment to sustainability felt by the pharmaceutical industry is palpable. As our sector actively evolves to reduce its environmental impact and contribute to a more sustainable future, here I reflect on some of the ongoing initiatives that are driving this positive change.

Partnering with the NHS to be more sustainable

Companies are working with health systems across the four nations of the UK to be more sustainable. In England, we are sharing information through the Evergreen Sustainable Supplier Assessment process to show how pharmaceutical companies are aligning their operations with sustainable practices and the NHS’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2045. 

By 2024, suppliers will be able to engage consistently through a single route with the NHS in England as we collectively work towards the net zero target and timeline. We’re also collaborating with health systems in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to encourage a coordinated approach.

NHS England is one of the most advanced health systems in the world in its thinking on sustainability. Our partnership shows that by working together, the private and public sector can make real progress on sustainability for the benefit of health care systems in the UK and internationally.

Greening manufacturing processes

The pharmaceutical industry is proactively exploring how it can make manufacturing more sustainable. Companies are investing in cleaner production methods and using green chemistry principles to change manufacturing practices to reduce the total environmental impact of creating medicines. Transitioning to renewable energy sources for manufacturing facilities is also becoming the norm, significantly contributing to reducing the industry's overall carbon footprint.

Carbon offsetting and reducing our environmental footprint

Achieving net zero emissions is a complex task, but one that the pharmaceutical industry is committed to meeting. A primary focus of sustainability initiatives is the reduction of carbon footprints. In our industry, whether it's research and development or manufacturing and distribution, every stage of the pharmaceutical lifecycle has an environmental impact.

We are increasingly investing in carbon offsetting initiatives, including those that remove or reduce greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere, effectively balancing out the industry's own carbon footprint.

Wasting less and promoting responsible practices

Key to sustainable practices is minimising waste, reusing, and recycling resources. Products generated by our industry necessarily use types of packaging required by regulations to ensure patient safety. Companies are exploring how to develop sustainable alternatives and reduce the use of packaging components like single-use plastics where this is possible. We also see examples of companies partnering to encourage responsible disposal practices for pharmaceutical waste, such as take-back and recycling schemes.

As we navigate the transition to more sustainable ways of working, we are reshaping our industry from within and positioning ourselves well in the global pursuit of a net-zero future. Though a significant challenge, the pharmaceutical industry is determined to play a pivotal role in creating a healthier, more sustainable world for generations to come.

Last modified: 01 December 2023

Last reviewed: 01 December 2023