Fellowship of the green: AstraZeneca, Samsung, GSK and more unite to slash greenhouse gas emissions

After drugmakers banded together to wage war on COVID-19, seven industry giants are now teaming up to collectively face down another major global health threat: climate change.

Chief executives from European pharma majors AstraZeneca, GSK, Merck KGaA, Novo Nordisk, Roche and Sanofi, plus Korea-based CDMO Samsung Biologics, have linked up to achieve emissions reduction targets and hasten the delivery of so-called net zero health systems.

The ecological team-up will initially set out to decarbonize the industry’s supply chain, plus patient care systems and clinical trials. The group is operating through the Sustainable Markets Initiative health systems task force, which debuted at last year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Net zero describes a state in which the greenhouse gasses going into the atmosphere are balanced by removal out of the atmosphere, the University of Oxford’s Oxford Net Zero research initiative explains on its website.

Many drugmakers—including several involved in this latest campaign—are already hard at work scrubbing their carbon footprints with strategies such as electric vehicle sales fleets, power purchase agreements and the installation of on-site renewable energy sources such as solar panels.

But it's not just a company's own operations that can contribute to climate change. In recent months, sustainability executives in the industry have stressed the importance of focusing on emissions from suppliers, distributors or manufacturers. These indirect emissions, known as Scope 3 emissions, make up 90% of Novartis’ environmental footprint, for instance, James Goudreau, head of environmental sustainability external engagement at the company, said on a Fierce Biotech panel this summer.

Aside from aligning on a set of “common supplier standards” to help incentivize decarbonization across the pharma supply chain, the new task force will also angle to switch to renewable power, jointly explore renewable power purchase agreements in China and India next year, and more.

Where patient care is concerned, the group aims to work with health policymakers, regulators, payers, providers, healthcare professionals and patient groups to spread the word about the importance of decarbonization efforts.

Finally, when it comes to clinical trials, the team will commit to a common framework by 2023 and subsequently start measuring greenhouse gas emissions in mid- and late-phase studies. The involved companies plan to start reporting phase 2 and phase 3 trial emissions in 2025.

Looking ahead, the task force hopes to align new trials to companies’ decarbonization goals and set trial emissions reduction targets “for 2030 at the latest.”

Much like it aims to work with suppliers, the new coalition also plans to recruit clinical research organizations and clinical-trial-related suppliers to commit to greener working solutions, too.

This isn’t the pharma industry’s first collaborative effort aimed at the planet’s health.

Last year, 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 in a release last year. 

Meanwhile, GSK recently said it would require suppliers to make sustainability commitments and chart improvements on emissions, energy, heat, transport, waste, water and biodiversity starting next year.

Merck & Co. released its latest progress report on the company's environmental and social goals, too, noting it’s “on track” to achieve carbon neutrality by the middle of the decade.

As one of the founding members of Energize—which also debuted with Biogen, GSK, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Sanofi and Takeda at the helm—Merck has also accounted for its indirect emissions, Merck executive Carmen Villar said in a recent interview.