Public wants pharma to reveal carbon footprint of drugs

CO2 emissions
Adrian Balasoiu

A survey has found that there is strong consumer support for pharma manufacturers to disclose the carbon footprint of their medicines, amid rising public scrutiny of the environmental credentials of big business.

The poll of more than 1,300 people from the US, UK, France, and Australia found that 84% were in favour of a medicine’s carbon footprint being disclosed, with the same proportion indicating it is important for health systems to try to reduce carbon emissions related to medicines.

A smaller, but still sizeable, 73% of respondents felt it was important for doctors to have access to carbon footprint information when deciding which medicines to prescribe, and 84% were in favour of drugs with a lower footprint being chosen if costs were the same.

Overall, the healthcare sector has been estimated to contribute 4.4% of global emissions, with studies in the UK and France estimating that medicines account for 25% and 33%, respectively, leading to calls for the industry to shoulder the burden of reducing its impact.

The survey, by sustainable medicines non-profit YewMaker, found “remarkable consistency” between the four nations taking part, although, it also found that very few people had considered the environmental impact of medicines before taking part.

73% of respondents said they considered it important for doctors to have access to carbon footprint information when prescribing medicines, while 53% wanted to have that information for themselves.

More than 60 healthcare systems around the world have already committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions, including the NHS in the UK, which has set a target of 2045 to achieve that goal, making it essential to address medicine-related emissions, said YewMaker.

One big obstacle to achieving reductions is that getting a handle on the true carbon footprint of a medicine can be challenging because so many of the emissions are from external sources (Scope 3), rather than from their own activities (Scope 1 and 2).

As of last year, less than half of the top 100 companies had made time-bound commitments to net zero, although, 52 had started reporting actual emissions.

One company that has made a strong pledge in this area is AstraZeneca, whose Ambition Zero Carbon initiative has the target of reducing emissions from its operations and fleet by 98% by 2026. The company is also funding a $400 million reforestation programme that it says will help to remove its “residual emissions” from the atmosphere from 2030 onwards.

YewMaker is developing a toolkit to help companies gauge the carbon footprint of their medicines, the MCF Classifier, and has said it will be providing more information on that later this year.

“It’s encouraging to see that our commitment resonates with the views of patients and the public, who overwhelmingly support the health sector’s commitment to reducing the carbon footprint of medicines,” commented YewMaker’s founder and chief executive, Nazneen Rahman

“This mission, and the mission of Net Zero healthcare, is not just a responsibility, it’s a shared commitment. It’s what healthcare owes to society, and it’s what the public rightly expects from healthcare.”

Photo by Adrian Balasoiu on Unsplash.