AstraZeneca advances net-zero carbon goals, adding Honeywell deal and outsider oversight among new ESG efforts
Just a few years ago, the pharma industry was labeled as a big-time carbon polluter in a study that showed greenhouse gas emissions that were 55% higher than the auto industry. The study and media reports that followed expressed some shock amid surprisingly scant attention paid to the industry by environmental watchers.
Since then, however, pharma companies have taken up the challenge — including efforts by many to drive to net-zero emission goals. AstraZeneca, along with Novartis and Merck, is leading the time race in the industry, setting company goals for 2025, followed by a larger group of pharmas aiming for 2030. ESG tracker SPGlobal notes J&J, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi and BioNTech among the latter group.
For AstraZeneca, the drive to get to zero carbon emissions within the next three years is a $1 billion investment begun in 2020 — and now well on track to hit those targets, according to its recently released annual sustainability report.
By the end of 2021, it had reduced its greenhouse gas footprint by 59% and achieved 100% renewable electricity across its own sites, said Juliette White, AstraZeneca’s VP of global safety, health and environmental (SHE) and operations sustainability. AstraZeneca is also making progress with key suppliers and partners, confirming they’ll have their own science-based decarbonization targets set by 2025.
The latest addition to its “Ambition Zero Carbon” plan is a deal with Honeywell inked in February to develop next-gen inhalers for asthma and COPD patients using an environmentally friendly propellant.
AstraZeneca was also recently named among the first seven global companies — and only pharma — to have its net-zero efforts verified by the standards group Science Based Targets initiative.
Its environmental goals, along with its two other key ESG priorities around ethics and transparency, and access to healthcare “work in concert with one another,” White said.
To make sure it’s staying on track and accountable, AstraZeneca now includes outside members on its ESG oversight board. It amped its governance, the G in ESG, with a new sustainability subcommittee that includes four non-executive directors with oversight — and input on future initiatives.
“The board subcommittee gives additional oversight but also demonstrates and underscores the real commitment that we have,” she said, adding that the board also helps AstraZeneca “strategically stretch in a true full ESG sense and not just the programs around carbon.”
The overall ESG efforts by AstraZeneca and the entire pharma industry matter not only because their customers — patients and HCPs — but also investors, are demanding it.
“We’ve always seen those traditional ESG investors have a keen interest, but what we are beginning to see is a broader, perhaps non-traditional investors ask ESG questions, which I think most of us would say we see as a healthy and positive movement that we’re seeing socially as a whole,” White said.