Almost half of the pharma and biotech sector has joined the Race to Zero. Here’s why it must go further

By Stephanie Millar, Pharma and Biotech Sector Lead, Climate Champions & James Connelly, CEO, My Green Lab | November 11, 2022

A recent study on the carbon impact of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry found that more companies than ever are adopting zero carbon goals and showing their commitment to halve emissions by 2030 and join the Race to Zero.

Based on the latest figure at the time of this article, 46% of the sector by revenue has committed to the Race to Zero, up from 31% at this time last year. The industry is also beginning to move in the right direction on carbon intensity, with some of the largest companies demonstrating leadership in emissions reduction.

Produced by My Green Lab, a Delivery Partner for the Race to Zero, in collaboration with Urgentem, a climate risk consultancy, the study, originally released in November 2021 and updated in November 2022, details overall industry trends. The top 25 companies in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sector have continued to reduce their annual Scope 1 and 2 carbon intensity by an average of 5% since 2015. The top 15 companies have performed even better, reducing carbon emissions by an average of 9% year-on-year.

Also highlighted in the report is the industry’s move to implement green lab programs, which provide a roadmap of practical opportunities for companies, scientists, and their suppliers to reduce the environmental impact of laboratories. Of the companies that have committed to the Race to Zero, 53% have begun a My Green Lab program, up from 25% at this time last year.

“Given the outsized impact of laboratories and the ability to drive measurable change, the My Green Lab Certification program was selected as the 2030 Breakthrough Outcome for pharma and med tech. Companies need to set bold targets and swiftly take action to implement programs to drive down emissions across all three scopes. The certification program will act as a catalyst for addressing emissions throughout the business, ultimately achieving system wide transformation of the pharma and med tech sector,” says Stephanie Millar, Pharma and Biotech Sector Lead for the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions.

My Green Lab Certification focuses on reducing emissions for Scope 1 and 2 by making laboratory operations more sustainable. It further helps catalyze Scope 3 reductions by encouraging sustainable purchasing within organizations and with laboratories that a company contracts within its supply chain. As a Race to Zero 2030 Breakthrough Outcome, My Green Lab Certification is a key measure of progress towards a zero carbon future.

While this positive trend in commitment to science-based targets is encouraging, the study also highlights the industry’s need for more ambitious targets and increased action.

Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are significant contributors to climate change, with higher emissions than the forestry and paper industry, widely regarded as one of the most carbon-intensive industries.

While the largest companies have established goals and commitments, 91% of publicly traded companies analyzed do not have climate commitments aligned with a 1.5˚C degrees warming scenario, the emission targets that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates will avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The study is the first to evaluate the upstream and downstream value chain of biotech and pharma by quantifying Scope 3 indirect emissions for both public and private companies. It found that Scope 3 emissions are four times higher than Scope 1 and 2 combined for publicly listed companies and 3.3 times larger for privately-owned companies.

By outsourcing research and manufacturing, companies increase capacity and specialization without adding to their carbon footprint calculated in Scope 1 and 2 emissions. This underscores the importance of evaluating total emissions across a company’s entire supply chain, including indirect Scope 3 emissions.

Given the carbon intensity and rapid growth of the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry sector, it is both critical and timely to examine the industry’s carbon profile as well as key opportunities to improve it.

“It is encouraging to see the leading companies in the Biotech and Pharma industry addressing their commitments by taking action,” says James Connelly, CEO of My Green Lab.

“However, the conclusions are clear – more work must be done now. Every company in the industry must take rapid, measurable actions in order to meet the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement. Adopting green lab programs and building a positive culture of sustainability is a crucial way the industry will continue to turn commitments into action,” Connelly continues.

The scientific industry has the resources, culture of innovation, and ambitious mission focused companies who are able to lead the global fight against climate change.

Pharmaceutical and biotechnology organizations have the ability to become the global leaders on addressing climate change, starting with their own footprints. When they do, the industry has the potential to inspire other sectors to follow in their footsteps.