AstraZeneca sows $400M investment in push to plant 200M trees by 2030

Eco-minded AstraZeneca speaks for the trees.

The British drugmaker—often on the front lines of environmental stewardship—is expanding its AZ Forest program to the tune of $400 million. With that new investment, the company is raising its commitment to plant and nurture 200 million trees across six continents by 2030—the same year AstraZeneca aims to halve its environmental footprint across its entire value chain.  

The upgraded effort will see AZ establish new or expanded forestry projects in Brazil, India, Vietnam, Ghana and Rwanda, the company explained in a press release. In turn, AZ’s planting efforts will contribute to the company’s broader goals around climate action, nature restoration, promotion of biodiversity and its campaign to build ecological and community resilience. In total, the project will span more than 100,000 hectares worldwide.

In its press release, AstraZeneca notes that three-quarters of land globally has faced significant changes by human hands, leading to “profound effects on ecosystems and population health.” Reforestation, meanwhile, has the potential to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, while contributing to climate adaptation and resilience.

Further, AZ’s reforestation efforts support human health, communities and economies by safeguarding water resources, promoting food security and nutrition, lowering surface and air temperatures and combating air pollution.

To see its ecological mission through, AstraZeneca is leveraging innovative remote sensing technology and high-resolution imagery, plus long-term monitoring to track the health of trees, soil and water quality as well as biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

AZ rolled out its initial forest commitment in 2020, when it pledged to plant and maintain more than 50 million trees by the end of 2025. To that end, planting has “progressed at pace” in Australia, Indonesia, Ghana, the U.K., the U.S. and France, where the British drugmaker has fostered over 300 tree species. The goal is to allow the restoration of biodiversity and natural habitats, with an added benefit to local communities expected to affect some 80,000 livelihoods.

Specifically, AZ’s forest projects are co-designed with planting experts, local communities and governments. The co-benefits of the project include the creation of new skills and jobs plus the protection and recovery of endangered species and improved public health.

Further, AstraZeneca is working in tandem with the European Forest Institute and the Circular Bioeconomy Alliance (CBA). In addition, AZ Forest moves the needle on the World Economic Forum’s initiative—a public-private partnership designed to conserve, restore and grow 1 trillion trees by 2030.

By the end of 2022, AZ had already planted more than 10.5 million trees in countries like Australia, Indonesia, Ghana, France, the U.K. and the U.S. Next on the docket for AZ are new or expanded projects in Brazil, India, Ghana, Rwanda and Vietnam.

In Brazil, AZ has forged a new 30-year reforestation partnership with Biolífica Ambipar and Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas, called “Corridors for Life,” which will plant 12 million trees within the Atlantic Forest, where over 100 native species are planned in each project area. By creating ecological corridors between fragmented pockets of forest in the west of São Paulo state, AstraZeneca aims to build important habitats for vulnerable and endangered species.

In India, meanwhile, AZ has forged another 30-year partnership with Earthbanc plus local implementation partners in the state of Meghalaya to plant some 64 million trees, with a focus on a “diverse mix of species.” This leg of the AZ Forest project is designed to restore nature in a “degraded” biodiversity hot spot while supporting farming jobs.

Moving south to Ghana, AZ is expanding its existing forestry project with the CBA and other partners to add an additional 2.2 million trees, bringing the total number of targeted surviving trees to 4.7 million, while restoring 8,000 hectares of degraded areas in the Atebubu-Amantin and Sene West districts of central Ghana. The community-led program seeks to boost forest restoration, agroforestry, biodiversity and nature-based business models for small-holder farmers.

Elsewhere, AZ aims to plant more than 5.8 million trees in Rwanda and 22.5 million trees in Vietnam, where it’s endeavoring to restore the country’s forests and landscapes. With the Vietnam project, AZ expects to provide sustainable jobs for more than 17,000 small-holder farmers while simultaneously improving diets and nutrition and conserving soil and water.

AstraZeneca unveiled its Ambition Zero Carbon program in 2020, pledging to wring carbon emissions from its global operations by 2025. To see that effort through, AZ at the time pledged $1 billion, with part of the sum devoted to the development of next-generation respiratory inhalers that have almost no negative impact on global warming.

Aside from planting trees and developing more environmentally friendly respiratory devices, AstraZeneca also plans to turn all of its energy consumption to renewable sources for both power and heat and switch to electric cars. Beyond the company itself, AstraZeneca promises to ask its suppliers to cut carbon emissions so that it can become carbon negative along its entire value chain by the start of the next decade.

Speaking to Fierce Pharma for its annual Influentials report earlier this year, AZ CEO Pascal Soriot explained that he wants “to try and help in the areas where I have something to offer.”

He added that he tries “to influence things that I can, and my biggest passion outside of our industry is climate change.”

AstraZeneca isn’t alone on its quest to improve human and planetary health. Across the industry, other drugmakers like GSK, Novartis, Amgen, Merck KGaA, Novo Nordisk, Roche and Sanofi have also made bold pledges to improve their ecological footprints.

Last November, a clutch of pharmaceutical companies linked up under the U.N. Climate Change Conference’s Sustainable Markets Initiative health systems task force to achieve emissions reduction targets and hasten the delivery of so-called net zero health systems.

Net zero describes a state in which the greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere are balanced by removal out of the atmosphere.

Prior to the formation of that coalition, companies like Novartis, AstraZeneca, Novo Nordisk and seven other large pharma companies unveiled the Energize program with Schneider Electric and Carnstone. The effort aims to engage “hundreds of suppliers in bold climate action and decarbonization of the pharmaceutical value chain,” Schneider Electric said at the time.