Pharmaceutical Landscape: Sustainability as a Key Imperative

The pharmaceutical sector is meeting increasing pressures on the topic of sustainability, which is anticipated only to increase. In today’s rapidly evolving world, the pharmaceutical industry is recognising the crucial importance of sustainability as a key imperative.

Health and climate change are inextricably linked, from the impact of extreme weather on food security to air pollution due to wildfires or the growing spread of infectious diseases. Our warming world is inflicting an increasing physical, mental and economic burden on individuals and communities. According to the World Health Organization, climate change is now the biggest health threat facing humanity and it is projected to cause an additional 9 million deaths from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.

climate change health

Climate change clearly impacts health and health systems, and yet the pharmaceutical industry itself has challenges to reduce its own environmental impact.

In the United Kingdom, the pharmaceutical industry plays a vital role in the country’s economy, employing over 70,000 people and contributing over £14 billion to the country’s GDP. However, with this size, the industry also has a significant environmental footprint, including the production of large amounts of waste and the use of energy and water resources.

According to recent studies, the pharmaceutical industry produces 55% more Carbon emissions than the automotive industry.

As the demand for healthcare solutions grows, so does the industry’s responsibility to address the environmental impact of its operations.

Environmental Impacts

In the pharmaceutical industry manufacturing and transportation processes consume substantial energy, emit greenhouse gases, and utilise large amounts of water resources.

In addition, impacts include:

  1. Waste Generation: The pharmaceutical industry generates substantial waste throughout the manufacturing and packaging processes. This includes both hazardous and non-hazardous waste.
  2. Packaging Waste: Pharmaceuticals often require extensive packaging for protection and preservation. This contributes to plastic waste, which has adverse environmental effects, particularly marine pollution.
  3. Chemical Footprint: The pharmaceutical industry uses various chemicals throughout the manufacturing process. Some chemicals may have adverse effects on the environment and human health if not handled properly.
  4. Biodiversity Conservation: The extraction of natural resources for pharmaceutical production can impact biodiversity, as it may involve the destruction of habitats and the loss of plant and animal species.

Ethical Concerns

Sustainability in the pharmaceutical landscape extends beyond environmental considerations. Ethical concerns also play a vital role, including issues related to labour practices, pricing accessibility, and availability of medicines in low-income nations. To address these concerns, companies are developing and implementing robust ethical sourcing policies. Collaborations with suppliers who adhere to sustainable guidelines are key in promoting ethical and sustainable practices throughout the supply chain.

Social Impacts

The pharmaceutical industry’s activities can have significant social consequences. These impacts can affect local populations. Recognising this, companies are focusing on ensuring compliance with labour standards and promoting fair working conditions throughout their operations. Engaging with local communities and investing in social initiatives further contributes to positive social impacts.

nhs carbon footprint plus


NHS Ambitions and Regulations

The NHS has set ambitious goals and regulations to drive sustainability within the healthcare sector.

It recognises its purchasing power and aims to reduce emissions from the supply chain through more efficient use of supplies, low-carbon substitutions, and by encouraging suppliers to decarbonise their processes.

From April 2023, suppliers are required to publish a Carbon Reduction Plan for their emissions, with further requirements for all procurements from April 2024. By April 2027, all suppliers will be expected to publicly report targets, emissions, and publish a Carbon Reduction Plan aligned with the NHS net zero target. These measures aim to encourage suppliers to reduce their Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions.

“The NHS uses products from more than 80,000 suppliers, encompassing medical equipment, food, business and office goods. The non-medicines supply chain makes up 42% of the NHS Carbon Footprint Plus”

By 2030, the NHS will only purchase from suppliers that meet or exceed its commitment to net zero.

Key actions to accelerate sustainability

To overcome sustainability challenges, pharmaceutical companies are taking a number of  actions:

  1. Sustainable Sourcing Practices

Companies are prioritising sustainable sourcing by working with suppliers who adhere to ethical guidelines and certifications. Partnering with organisations like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) can ensure responsible sourcing of raw materials. Regular audits of suppliers can also help prevent unethical practices in the supply chain.

Asking your suppliers about their sustainability ambitions, strengthens your own position.

  1. Waste and Energy Reduction

Implementing energy-efficient technologies and optimising manufacturing processes are crucial in reducing energy consumption and minimising waste generation. Investments in renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, are being made to further reduce environmental impact. Sustainable waste management practices, including waste reduction at the source and proper disposal methods, are key considerations.

Measuring Carbon footprint and deep diving into Scope 3 aspects will support acceleration on energy savings activities and ensure you focus on key impact areas.

  1. Transparency and Accountability

Establishing sustainability standards, certifications, and reporting frameworks can promote transparency and accountability within the pharmaceutical industry.

Engaging with stakeholders, publishing sustainability reports, and participating in industry-wide initiatives like the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Initiative (PSCI) can demonstrate a commitment to sustainability and drive positive change throughout the supply chain.

  1. Collaboration with Stakeholders

Collaboration among pharmaceutical companies, suppliers, regulators, and consumers is vital for achieving sustainability goals. Partnerships and sharing of best practices foster innovation and create a collective impact towards a more sustainable future. Collaboration with industry leaders, NGOs and government entities is instrumental in shaping industry-wide sustainability initiatives.

Some examples are:

Sustainable Healthcare Networks Hub

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry

The Pharmaceutical Industry Network Group (PING)

The Sustainable Procurement Pledge (SPP)

The Healthcare Distribution Association (HDA)


The pharmaceutical landscape is undergoing a significant transformation, with sustainability emerging as a key imperative.

The industry’s focus on minimising environmental impacts, addressing ethical concerns, and creating positive social change is reshaping its practices.

By being able to move quickly on your own sustainability, you will be prepared for the regulations, requirements and questions your own customers will have of you in the coming months and years.

If you are looking to accelerate your sustainability, measurement and authentically communications both your success and your strategy, get in touch with us at


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