AstraZeneca aims to go carbon free by 2025—and it'll spend $1B to do it

AstraZeneca said it will invest up to $1 billion to achieve zero carbon emissions from its global operations by 2025. (Pixabay)

For a pharma company selling respiratory drugs, climate change would probably mean more patients and increased sales. But AstraZeneca has committed to contributing its fair share to stop that trend.

Just as the topic of climate change takes center stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, AstraZeneca unveiled its Ambition Zero Carbon program, which aims to achieve zero carbon emissions from its global operations by 2025.

To do that, it will invest up to $1 billion, part of which will go toward developing next-generation respiratory inhalers that have almost no negative impact on global warming, the company said.

It's the latest move by a drugmaker to cut its carbon footprint—a trend that's become more common of late but is still far from usual across the pharma industry. The number of drug companies winning kudos for their sustainability work amounts to less than a dozen.

“I believe we’re facing a climate crisis, and every company has to do something,” AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said in an interview with Bloomberg. “I have children and a grandson, and they’re going to look at me and say, ‘what did you do?’ And our employees also are asking us, expecting us to do something.”

The new pressurized metered-dose inhalers AZ promises to develop for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease will use propellants with a Global Warming Potential mark that’s 90% to 99% lower than the older ones.

To achieve zero carbon emissions by 2025, AstraZeneca plans to turn all of its energy consumption to renewable sources for both power and heat and switch to electric cars.

Beyond its own company, the British drugmaker promises to ask its suppliers to cut carbon emissions so that it can become carbon negative along its entire value chain by 2030.

RELATED: AstraZeneca plows $520M into manufacturing and R&D in France as it slims down elsewhere

The plan, which according to AstraZeneca accelerates its decarbonization gloals by more than a decade, also includes the AZ Forest project in which the company will partner with reforestation organizations and governments to plant 50 million trees over the next five years.

The renewed commitment comes on the heels of AZ being recognized by global environmental impact nonprofit CDP on its annual “A List” for corporations leading on environmental transparency and performance. Among the 179 companies that made this year’s list are Bayer, Baxter, Eisai, Johnson & Johnson, Lundbeck, Novo Nordisk and Ono Pharmaceutical.

Environmental sustainability has become an increasingly common theme within the pharma industry as companies work to establish a responsible corporate image before the public. With this year's Davos meeting revolving around climate change, more companies may join in with their own announcements.

Already, at this year’s J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, Takeda CEO Christophe Weber said the Japanese pharma is aiming to be carbon neutral this year by offsetting 4.5 million tons of emissions. “It’s a financial commitment that we can do without changing our financial target, and that’s because we have reduced in the past our carbon emissions,” he said.

Last year, Novo Nordisk said (PDF) it was on track to use only renewable electricity at its production facilities by 2020. The goal will be enabled by the installation of a 672-acre solar panel group in North Carolina, which will provide power to the Danish company’s entire U.S. operations from early 2020.

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