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Six Pharmaceutical Firms Taking a Lead in Sustainability

by Kate O’Rourke

Six Pharmaceutical Firms Taking a Lead in Sustainability

by Kate O’Rourke

Published 03-20-20

Submitted by Acre

There will always be challenges for the pharmaceutical industry where sustainability is concerned, but it needn’t be a bitter pill to swallow.

From complex medication requiring specific packaging to tight production schedules, the industry faces stubborn obstacles in ensuring that it improves the wellbeing and health of humans while not harming the planet.

There are plenty of opportunities for improvement, however, be it through collaborating with medical device manufacturers to create more simple and convenient products, to using unique serial numbers to track pharmaceutical products throughout a fully transparent supply chain.

So, what are individual pharmaceutical companies doing to leverage sustainability? Acre has highlighted six leaders in this area. All have recently been recognised by the research firm Corporate Knights as among the world’s 100 most sustainable companies, out of more than 7,000 assessed.

1.Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK)

In 2018, GSK announced a set of 13 new commitments to improve global health and address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Goal 3 of the SDGs, Good Health and Wellbeing, is where the British multinational believes it can make the biggest contribution.

In three priority areas - innovation, performance and trust - GSK pledged to produce products that are affordable and available, address health needs using science and technology and become a modern employer (for example by accelerating progress in diversity and inclusion).

GSK has also slashed operational greenhouse gas emissions and plans are being implemented to reduce its water use by 30 per cent at high-risk sites by 2030.


The British-Swedish multinational firm has built a sustainability strategy around three pillars: access to healthcare, environmental protection and ethics and transparency.

The company has been recognised for its actions to reduce emissions, cut climate risks, develop the low-carbon economy and manage water resources sustainably.

The accolade was awarded by CDP, the global environmental impact non-profit organisation, based on data submitted through its 2019 questionnaires, widely recognised as the gold standard of corporate environmental transparency.

AstraZeneca was one of the few high-performing companies to achieve a double ‘A’ listing out of thousands scored, the fourth consecutive year it had done so.

The company recently announced it was to bring its decarbonisation plans forward by a decade, via its Ambition Zero Carbon programme, and will invest up to $1billion to meet its existing science-based targets.


The Japanese pharmaceutical company has prioritised its environmental efforts in recognition of human health being under threat (including from the spread of infectious diseases) because of climate change.

Takeda reviews its medium and long-term environmental targets each year and has already exceeded its previously established 2020 environmental goals well ahead of schedule. This included cutting CO2 emissions by more than a third compared with 2005 levels.

In addition, the firm has announced new 2040 targets to become carbon neutral across its value chain, including eliminating all greenhouse gas emissions across all its operations. It will work with suppliers to significantly reduce their emissions and use verified carbon offsets where needed.

4.Novo Nordisk

Novo Nordisk works to ensure that its operations leave no negative impact on people, communities and the environment.

The Danish firm specialises in diabetes and, with the number of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes soaring around the world, is working towards a circular mindset to prevent waste.

As with other pharma firms, it expends large amounts of energy, water and raw materials when producing injection pens and medication. By moving away from the linear economy and focusing on its Circular for Zero strategy, it will re-use, recycle and re-purpose products where possible.

5.Merck & Co

With a strong belief that all companies are responsible when it comes to using resources wisely, Merck & Co’s environmental sustainability strategy focuses on three key areas: driving efficiency throughout its operations, designing new products to minimise environmental impact and reducing impacts in its value chain.

The American firm analyses the lifecycle impact of products, finds ways to use raw materials efficiently and has made a commitment to keep global water use at 2015 levels or lower.

It has also pledged to source at least 50 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025, with the aim of achieving 100 per cent by 2040.


Sanofi’s corporate social responsibility roadmap set out its priorities: contributing to public health and healthcare access for underserved patients, creating a more inclusive and sustainable ecosystem for communities, engaging employees and ensuring environmental considerations are part of the decision-making process.

The French pharma firm aims to become carbon neutral for all operations by 2050, with a lifecycle management plan in place within the next five years at its production sites.

It is well on the way to achieving its ambition of recycling, reusing or recovering at least 90 per cent of waste generated by 2025 – it is already at 73 per cent.

Sanofi plans to reduce the waste it sends to landfill to one per cent within the next five years and has already cut landfill waste to eight per cent.


Do you work in the pharma industry? Is your company using innovative methods to lessen environmental impact and embrace sustainability during your daily operations? We would love to hear your examples of best practice. Contact Kate O’Rourke, Senior Consultant at Acre Resources, on 020 7400 5570.

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​About Acre

At Acre, we work with the most aspirational businesses with potential to make real change; from those who are just starting out to those who are well on the journey to crafting a legacy.

Our 18 years' experience in sustainability recruitment, combined with our extensive global network, enables us to provide talent solutions that are designed to deliver this change.

Through our unique behavioural assessment technology, we understand the types of people, skills and behaviours required to create impact. We can develop these qualities within your existing teams too.

We find talented people and develop their skills to ensure they make a true impact in ambitious, progressive organisations.

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