A study published in the Journal of Cleaner Production has found the global pharma industry to be a major polluter, with a greenhouse gas emissions intensity approximately 55% greater than that of the automotive industry in 2015.

Big pharma pollution

It is an alarming finding that will no doubt shock many who had previously given little thought to the industry’s environmental impact. Moreover, it demonstrates that unlike many other sectors such as the energy and automotive industries, the pharma industry has largely succeeded in avoiding intense scrutiny of its environmental practices, even though political interest in climate change has intensified significantly in recent years.

In addition to the lack of awareness of pharma’s contribution to climate change, lack of adequate regulation is a key contributing factor. Pharma companies have too much power in devising their own environmental policies, which in many cases leads to ineffective practices or greenwashing. This is demonstrated by the huge variability in emissions intensity among companies, with a 5.5-fold difference identified between the highest and lowest intensity emitters.

Additionally, the study determined that the overall sector would need to reduce emissions by 58.6%, from 2015 levels, by 2025 in order to comply with reduction targets in the Paris Agreement.

However, a few star performers, notably Roche , Amgen and Johnson & Johnson have significantly reduced their emissions in recent years, while maintaining revenue growth, and have already met or even exceeded the 2025 targets. Immediate and sustained political pressure is therefore required to ensure that their main competitors follow suit in the coming years.