With Paris spotlight on climate change, here's how Big Pharma stacks up

As the Paris COP21 climate change conference rolls on this week, nations and governments are looking to industry to do its part. While pharma may not have the carbon footprint of energy or heavy manufacturing, it has other connections to environment and climate issues. The way climate change will affect public health, for instance, is a growing topic in global "green" pharma discussions, as is prescription drug pollution in the environment.

GSK CEO Andrew Witty

In a recent Accenture and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) study with the University of Oxford, GSK CEO Andrew Witty wrote, "My ambition is to see GSK and the pharmaceutical industry come together to make a progressive industry response to climate change and health. There is an opportunity for us to work closely with other key stakeholders, to initiate a dialogue around the actions we can collectively take, and to stimulate innovation and research in the area. As good corporate citizens, we all need to ensure that the impact of climate change on health is better understood so that we can form an appropriate response."

According to some measures, pharma as an industry is doing well overall. In Newsweek's annual ranking of corporate sustainability and environmental impact, four of the top-10-ranked companies were drugmakers: Biogen ($BIIB) was No. 1, Shire ($SHPG) was No. 2, Allergan ($AGN) was No. 3, and Roche ($RHHBY) was No. 9.

As companies this week are in the spotlight for doing their part to positively affect climate change--or failing to do so--we took a look at some of the climate and environmental commitments being made by Big Pharma.


One of 38 official partners of the COP21 conference and the only Big Pharma on that list, Paris-based Sanofi ($SNY) focuses its efforts on the health impacts of climate change.

"Sanofi has decided to be an official partner of COP21 in order to raise awareness on the consequences of climate change on health, but also to take action to prevent such impacts," Gilles Lhernould, senior vice president, Corporate Social Responsibility, said in a statement on Sanofi's website.

Along with pledging to provide medicine and vaccines as well as raise awareness of the impacts of climate change on health, Sanofi has also agreed to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions, supports drug takeback programs and is working on innovative wastewater treatment methods to remove medication remnants from water supplies.

Biogen, Novo Nordisk and Johnson & Johnson

These three are all members of the renewable energy effort called RE100, which asks corporations to commit to 100% renewable energy sources and encourages a deadline date. Biogen achieved 100% in 2014, although it is still working with suppliers in its supply chain to help them; Novo Nordisk ($NVO) has committed to a 2020 goal, and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) to 2050.

J&J is also the only pharma member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, an active lobbying group that pushes for government-required reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Pfizer, Merck & Co., Eli Lilly, Roche and Bristol-Myers Squibb

These 5 are all past award winners in the EPA's Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge for efforts to improve chemistry processes, or so-called green chemistry, by designing drugs that biodegrade more efficiently or by minimizing manufacturing chemical impacts on the environment.

Merck ($MRK), which has won the award three times, has a formal green chemistry program to reduce solvent and hazardous waste in its manufacturing process and pledges "to continue to collaborate with regulatory, academic, healthcare and research organizations to identify additional data needs on the transport, fate and effects of pharmaceuticals in the environment," according to its web site.

- see the Accenture/GSK research
- get the Newsweek rankings