Life Sciences & Net Zero: Charting a Sustainable Path

by Michael Whitworth    Contributor  , Trevor Hutchings    Contributor  , Alex Jones    Contributor        Biopharma insight

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Healthcare is one of the cornerstones of our society. High-quality healthcare is effective, patient-centric and vital for the population's well-being. However, healthcare alone accounts for 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions 1, 2 – if this were a country, it would be the 5th largest producer after China, the U.S, India, and Russia 6; equivalent to annual global aviation and shipping emissions combined 3, 4, 5.

Healthcare also contributes to a significant proportion of global waste; for example, NHS England generates 156,000 tonnes of waste per year 7. This environmental concern extends to the pharmaceutical industry as well. This year, the government established the Pharmaceuticals in the Environment Group (PiE), a cross-government platform created to identify potential pharmaceutical contributors entering the environment and discuss their unintended consequences. It is increasingly apparent that the quality of our health depends on the health of our planet and the ecosystems we live in - patient and planet health are intertwined 8, 9, 10.

 

Facing the Task Ahead

Clinical trials, a mechanism for introducing new medications and other interventions to the market, are a crucial element of the healthcare value chain. In 2021, there were 350,000 clinical trials registered globally. These accounted for 27.5 million tonnes of CO2 11 and significant waste, with up to 50% of clinical supplies never used 12, 13. This highlights the urgent need for environmentally sustainable practices within the industry. Reducing waste and carbon emissions in clinical trials aligns with global sustainability goals and enhances the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of healthcare research.

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