Supporting the era of green pharmaceuticals in the UK


According to a report by the Office of Health Economics (OHE), commissioned by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), immediate action must be taken by governments, health systems, and companies to secure the era of green pharmaceuticals.

‘Supporting the era of green pharmaceuticals in the UK’ highlights that, while Britain can play a leading role in the sustainability agenda for pharmaceuticals, action must also be taken on a global scale to ensure impact.

The pharmaceutical industry’s share of health service carbon emissions is estimated to be between 12% and 35%, different studies taking different measures of the NHS carbon footprint as the total. Nonetheless, the majority of emissions (70% to 90%) of most pharma companies lay outside their direct control, though they have made commitments to play a part in reaching net zero targets.

As pharmaphorum recently reported, healthcare’s contribution to the world’s carbon footprint is significant in its own right and is estimated at 4.4% of global emissions. As recent studies from the UK and France have shown, medicines are a large component of a health system’s emissions.

ABPI chief executive Richard Torbett said: “Sustainability is a massive and growing part of pharmaceutical companies’ work. We see environmental action being taken by member companies across the world – from investing in renewable energy to low-carbon inhalers to net-zero buildings.”

He continued: “It’s crucial that companies, Government, and the NHS work together to solve [the key challenges] to accelerate progress.”

Those key challenges are described in the report as being the drive for net zero, safety, regulatory standards, low success rates in pharmaceutical R&D, the changing nature of innovation, and the underlying fact that healthcare systems, as such, do not currently reward sustainability. The report, therefore, makes several recommendations:

  1. The recommendations for government include taking a lead in areas like grid decarbonisation and international alignment on regulatory and reporting standards;
  2. For the NHS, [the recommendations] include building environmental sustainability into procurement decision-making, so that decisions can be made on more than just cost;
  3. For industry, recommendations include disclosure of sustainability metrics and investment in product-level life-cycle assessment.

Chief executive of OHE and co-author of the report, Graham Cookson, said: “Healthcare has a significant impact on the environment, and it is time that this is recognised in the decision-making process. Without better structures for decision-making, the market will continue to generate myopic incentives for innovation with little regard for the environmental impact.”

The report was released while COP27 was underway in Egypt.

[Image sourced from Pexels.]