Tackling the climate crisis is an international priority. Healthcare has a high carbon footprint, accounting for 5% of the UK’s carbon footprint (Lenzen et al., 2020) and NHS England has estimated that the manufacture, supply, and use of pharmaceuticals account for 25% of the NHS’s total carbon footprint (NHS England, 2020).

As part of a raft of measures to improve sustainability, the UK government and the NHS in England have shown international leadership by setting ambitious net zero targets in recent years. However, it is widely recognised that to meet net zero targets, the private sector has an important role to play in reducing the carbon and broader environmental footprints of the products and services they supply to society. Many pharmaceutical companies have made commitments to reach net zero carbon across their operations, but in order to deliver, several significant, industry-specific challenges must be overcome.

This report sets out the high-priority activities that the NHS, UK government and industry should undertake to tackle these challenges. To adopt the recommendations, investment is needed from the industry, the UK Government and the NHS. No one actor can be expected to foot the bill for the upfront and ongoing investment needed to achieve long-term sustainability within the pharmaceutical industry. Any action taken in the UK will need to be replicated internationally to have any impact. Meaningful engagement, collaboration and action need to be taken now by governments, health systems, medicines regulators and companies globally to secure the era of green pharmaceuticals.

The core analysis for this report was undertaken before the energy crisis began. The crisis is caused by a number of global factors that have been worsened by local factors to result in high energy prices. The soaring cost of energy serves to reinforce both the urgency for action and the recommended actions outlined in this report. Specifically, the energy crisis shows how vulnerable the global pharmaceutical supply chain is to geo-political events (such as the war in Ukraine), fluctuations in the price of energy due to shortages of supply and the effects of climate change like heatwaves, fires and draughts. In the context of high energy prices, any actions to improve energy efficiency will pay for themselves more quickly increasing the incentives on companies to invest in energy efficiency to reduce the vulnerability of the industry to global shocks in the future.