A greener future: how can the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry meet rapidly shifting ESG targets?

Published: 22-May-2024

The results of a CPHI Annual Survey have shown that sustainability will be a key focus for the pharmaceutical industry in the next few years as goals and metrics are implemented throughout the supply chain and the rate of adoption accelerates(1)

The industry has been exploring how it can make its manufacturing practices more sustainable for several years; companies are now investing in cleaner production methods and using green chemistry principles to reduce the environmental impact of creating medicines.

Transitioning to renewable energy sources is quickly becoming the norm, significantly contributing to reducing the industry's overall carbon footprint.2

Here are some of the actions that those operating in the pharmaceutical industry need to take to meet rapidly shifting ESG targets and reduce the environmental impact of their manufacturing practices, along with some practical solutions that businesses in can implement to ensure that they are meeting their sustainability targets going forward.

Cleaner production and green chemistry principles

Using the globally recognised environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles to inform procurement decisions, the UK government introduced the Procurement Policy Note (PPN) 06/20 back in 2020.3

The pharmaceutical industry produces 55% more greenhouse gas emissions than the automotive sector, so it’s no surprise that the industry has become focused on ESG goals.4

ESG reporting has become an essential part of a pharmaceutical company’s strategy in recent years. It can help them to meet stakeholder expectations and drive positive change by prioritising environmental sustainability, social impact and governance practices.

ESG can also drive competitive advantage by leading to innovation, operational efficiency and cost savings, all while improving a company’s reputation and position within the market.

There are a number of chemical and process-driven changes that can make a pharmaceutical business more sustainable, reduce pollutants from the source and promote the healthy and sustainable development of the industry.5

A greener future: how can the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry meet rapidly shifting ESG targets?

These cleaner production methods are promoted by the twelve Principles of Green Chemistry, which the industry is implementing to become more sustainable.6

Aside from this, there are other practical steps that can be taken that can help the industry to meet its ESG commitments.

Companies are increasingly working to reduce the use of single-use plastics in packaging components as well as encouraging responsible disposal practices for pharmaceutical waste, such as take-back and recycling schemes. 

Renewable energy sources

Many are also exploring the use of renewable energy sources, such as solar thermal systems and wind turbines, to supply the increasing demands for electricity and heat in the long-term.

These not only serve to improve the pharmaceutical industry’s emissions balance, but they also allow manufacturers to become independent of centralised energy suppliers and external supply nations. This helps to secure the long-term stability of the industry with a continuous and secure supply of electricity and heat.

At COP26, in 2021, ten global pharmaceutical companies came together to launch Energize — a programme to engage the pharmaceutical supply chain in bold climate action and decarbonisation.7

Through proactive engagement with their suppliers to create renewable energy opportunities, the companies took meaningful action to address their energy usage.

More recently, in 2023, companies including AstraZeneca, GSK, Novo Nordisk and Roche united to discuss the possibility of scaling renewable power across their supply chains with energy providers in China and India.

These countries are key markets for pharmaceuticals manufacturing, so it marks a significant step forward in the adoption of renewable energy in the industry.

Further companies, including Johnson & Johnson, MSD, Sanofi, Pfizer and GSK have agreed to renewable energy targets in the next decade.

This will not only improve process efficiency, product quality and production rates, but changing how energy is managed across pharmaceutical manufacturing businesses can also achieve cost savings of up to 30%.8

Serving to combat climate change, reduce operational costs and enhance the reputation of pharmaceutical companies, switching to renewable energy is essential for the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry and will help it to meet many of its ESG targets going forward.

Practical solutions

New products and innovations that help businesses to implement renewable energy, such as Solspan’s solar carports, are emerging into the market. These work to reduce energy costs as automation increases demand for clean energy.

Generating solar power on-site offers a renewable and clean energy alternative, significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions while demonstrating the business’ commitment to environmental sustainability.

The solar panels work in the same way as a traditional rooftop solar installation, with a connection to the business’ existing electricity supply, backup battery storage or connection to the grid.

During a time when consumers, stakeholders and employees alike are increasingly drawn to businesses that are prioritising environmental consciousness, it is essential that businesses make it clear that they are committed to sustainability by investing in bold, visible and practical solutions that will help them to reach their net zero goals and deliver on their commitments to improve the health of our planet.


  1. www.cphi.com/en/digital-products/digital-products/annual-report-2023/annual-report-2023-form.html.
  2. www.abpi.org.uk/media/blogs/2023/december/paving-the-way-to-sustainability-transforming-pharmaceutical-industry-practices/.
  3. www.gov.uk/government/publications/procurement-policy-note-0620-taking-account-of-social-value-in-the-award-of-central-government-contracts.
  4. www.pharmaceutical-technology.com/sponsored/sustainability-in-the-biopharma-industry-the-way-forward/.
  5. www.hjgcjsxb.org.cn/en/article/doi/10.12153/j.issn.1674-991X.20210218.
  6. www.pharmasalmanac.com/articles/sustainability-in-pharmaceutical-manufacturing-a-cdmos-contribution.
  7. https://shcoalition.org/energize-a-programme-to-increase-access-to-renewable-energy-for-pharmaceutical-supply-chains-launches-at-cop26/.
  8. www.centricabusinesssolutions.com/us/blogpost/pharma-companies-cutting-energy-consumption-gain-competitive-advantage.

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