It is our collective and individual responsibility … to preserve and tend to the world in which we all live.” —Dalai Lama
As the world tackles COVID-19, the battle against climate change is also stepping up a gear. Many countries have now committed to achieving complete carbon neutrality, or “net-zero” emissions. In 2019 the UK became the first nation to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050. Certainly, private companies have a vital role to play in ensuring that this vision is realised by taking meaningful actions to reduce emissions across their value chains from supply to production.
In a recent interview with the UN, Mark Carney explained how these objectives represent both an opportunity and a challenge for business. Indeed, as societies and governments respond to the existential threat of climate change, and place increasing value on the principle of net-zero and environmental initiatives, those companies which can make themselves part of the solution, will ultimately be rewarded. Shifting our economies to reflect climate issues as quickly as possible is a global priority.
As a major global industry, generating 1.25 trillion dollars a year, the pharmaceutical sector has a vital role to play. However, it is worrying that healthcare has a more significant environmental impact than previously realised. A 2019 study, ‘Carbon footprint of the global pharmaceutical industry and relative impact of its major players‘, found that the pharma sector’s total global emissions amounted to about 52 megatonnes of CO2e in 2015. This total was more than the 46.4 megatonnes of CO2e generated by the automotive industry in the same year, despite being 28% smaller in terms of revenue. The same study found significant variation in emissions between organisations, noting that several had managed to reduce their footprint substantially while simultaneously showing revenue increase.
What is being done?
Against this backdrop, and in the context of global net-zero initiatives, many leading pharma players have made their intentions clear by launching comprehensive sustainability programs to reduce their climate footprint and emissions. For example, in 2020, AstraZeneca announced a 1 billion dollar programme to eliminate emissions by 2025 and become net neutral across the whole value chain by 2030. As well as playing into the global environmental agenda, important initiatives like these stand to benefit companies themselves by improving their reputations, increasing efficiency, and boosting innovation. The process of seeking to do things better and differently can result in a net business benefit as well as net zero.
As CROs, supporting the pharmaceutical sector with professional services, we do not have to contend with the environmental effects of production. However, in contributing to sustainability goals, services businesses have an essential role in managing emissions within our supply chain. At Veramed, while our footprint may be comparatively small, there are nevertheless efforts that we can make by minimising travel and managing our suppliers and offices with a view to environmental goals. After all, contributing to climate action reflects our overall commercial principles of doing business for good – our driver for becoming accredited as a B Corp company recently.
B Corps and sustainability
As we explained in our press announcement, B Corps are a new kind of business, balancing profit with people and the planet and working together to an inclusive and sustainable economy that works for everyone. As part of this community, we can take inspiration from our fellow members on the tactics they are employing to contribute to environmental sustainability. For example, Standing CT, an innovative provider of weight-bearing, low radiation CT scanning technology, has put some simple yet effective staff incentives in place. The company provides additional annual leave allowance if employees travel overland for holidays in continental Europe, contributes to helping staff switch energy providers to a “dark green” supplier, and supports the purchase of electric vehicles. Such policies are relatively straightforward to implement and make both a practical contribution and a clear leadership statement about the value of caring for the environment. We are excited about the future as a B Corp company and look forward to further developing Veramed’s performance in this area.
As Matt Jones, Co-Founder and CEO of Veramed said recently, “We are dedicated to continuing our journey towards being a better business and to leading the conversation on social and environmental change in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry.”
Carbon footprint of the global pharmaceutical industry and relative impact of its major players, Journal of Cleaner Production (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.11.204)