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Pharmaceutical companies are reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, but can only meet their targets with support from their suppliers, shows first study of commitments and progress by the sector.

Image supplied by Oxford PharmaGenesis

In a study of the top 20 global pharmaceutical companies published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health this month, researchers from the Nuffield department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford and supporte by the NIHR ARC OxTV, and consultancy firm Oxford PharmaGenesis showed that 17 companies (85%) have reduced emissions from their own sources and 19 (95%) have reduced emissions from purchased energy.

However, less than half (45%) have reduced emissions from their supply chain, which typically make up the majority of a company’s emissions.

Companies have successfully reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing or generating renewable energy, using electric vehicles and promoting energy efficiency, the researchers showed. Companies were starting to work with their suppliers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their supply chain, but only 11 (55%) were comprehensively reporting these emissions.

The contribution of pharmaceutical companies to health sector emissions urgently needs addressing, so it’s encouraging to see companies in our study setting climate change targets and reporting on their emissions according to international standards. Time is short and companies need to focus on their supply chain emissions, where better reporting and innovative solutions are needed - Lead researcher, Dr Amy Booth, DPhil student at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford.

Dr Chris Winchester, CEO of Oxford PharmaGenesis, said “As a 500-strong HealthScience communications consultancy serving the pharmaceutical industry, we wanted to help understand the commitments that companies are making and the actions they need from suppliers like us to meet their goals. When, through our shared membership of Green Templeton College at the University of Oxford, Sara and Amy approached me for advice, I jumped at the chance. The research we undertook has informed our company’s investment in this area, starting with understanding our carbon footprint and signing up to the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi). We are very proud that these efforts have been recognized with a silver medal for sustainability from EcoVadis”.

Professor Sara Shaw, Professor of Health Policy and Practice in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford and an ARC OxTV Senior Fellow, added that “While significant action is urgently needed to address climate change, including in the healthcare sector, it’s not always easy to know what action is being taken, or where to target efforts. Our study was significant in mapping out work already being done by the big pharmaceutical firms, and highlighting the gaps, while setting out a call for action for much more. It’s one small part of a programme of research in this field, in which collaborations, such as that with Oxford PharmaGenesis, are critical to generating evidence and supporting action”.

Dr Booth added that more research on this topic can be expected to be shared soon.



Booth A, Jager A, Faulkner SD, Winchester CC, Shaw SE. Pharmaceutical Company Targets and Strategies to Address Climate Change: Content Analysis of Public Reports from 20 Pharmaceutical Companies. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2023; 20(4):3206.