Throughout the Life Science sector, improving sustainability is essential for the well-being of the planet and people; one main factor in achieving sustainability is reaching carbon net zero. But what is carbon net zero and what are pharma organisations doing to achieve it?


Carbon Net Zero

Carbon Net Zero refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) being emitted into the environment, and the amount removed. The overall emissions of carbon and other GHGs are cancelled out by the process of removing or offsetting an equivalent quantity of emissions to the amount being released.

Greenhouse gases are emitted into the environment through processes such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation; however, by implementing more sustainable processes and improving energy efficiency, the production of GHGs can be reduced.

As an industry centred around people, it is imperative that life science companies strive for improvements in sustainability performance –  especially with climate change expected to reduce the availability of clean air and safe drinking water thus worsening the health of millions around the globe, so say the World Health Organisation. In doing this, pharmaceutical manufacturers must consider all three scopes when strategising for emissions reduction.

The 3 Scopes

 Scope 1: emissions refer to the direct GHG emissions that come from sources owned/controlled by the organisation. These emissions are produced from the organisation’s operations; these primarily include the burning of fossil fuels (stationary combustion), emissions from company vehicles (mobile combustion), and emissions from the chemical/physical processes conducted by the organisation (process emissions).

– Scope 2: emissions are associated with the indirect GHGs that the organisation consumes such as heating, electricity, AC, and steam. They are considered ‘indirect’ because the emissions are a result of the organisation’s activities, however, the emissions are not directly controlled by the organisation.

– Scope 3: emissions are more complex emissions as they occur outside the organisation’s operational boundaries. These emissions are still a result of the organisation’s activities but are produced by external processes such as transportation of goods and services, employee commuting, and emissions from the use of the products produced and sold. Supply chain is also a key challenge, particularly in the life science industry in which countless contract manufacturing organisations (CMOs) contribute to the entire value chain of a global life science manufacturer.

Many pharmaceutical companies have set ambitious net zero targets and are actively working on achieving their goals by reducing emissions. Some of the highlight companies that are leading the industry with the most aggressive targets include:

– Astra Zeneca

– GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)

– Johnson & Johnson


AstraZeneca have taken bold action to implement sustainable and efficient practices into company sites and operations; one of these actions is creating a $1 billion Ambition Zero Carbon programme that aims to sizeably reduce their GHG emissions. Through this programme, AZ are striving towards reducing carbon intensity by 98% by the year 2026. As well as this, the company has a target to use 100% renewable energy for electricity and heating by the end of 2025 – work to do this can be seen through AZ’s sponsorship of the Energize programme, which aims to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy sources and has seen the signup of a variety of leading life science companies. In addition to this, AZ aims to become carbon negative and to have halved their value chain footprint by 2030; AstraZeneca has been investing in more sustainable resources since 2015 and are continuing to do so.

To finance this, AstraZeneca say they have invested $130M towards renewable energy and resource efficiency and have achieved a 14.4% absolute reduction in their total energy consumption (TEC) and are aiming to achieve a 100% reduction within the next two years. In 2021, AZ transitioned to using 100% renewable imported electricity and have committed $23.1 million to on-site solar photovoltaic installations over 2022-2024 at ten sites across eight countries.

The targets set for 2025-2030 are extremely demanding and require a lot of action, however, AZ is committed to this target and has been for over 7 years; their strategies consider scope 1, scope 2, and scope 3 emissions and can be considered amongst the most holistic in the industry.


GSK also have aggressive targets towards achieving Carbon Net Zero; the company focuses on reducing emissions from all 3 scopes. However, they have also established clear goals for water sustainability and biodiversity.

One of these targets is to have a net zero impact on climate; GSK is aspiring to have 100% renewable electricity by 2025, 80% carbon emission reduction and to have achieved net zero emissions across their full value chain by 2045. GSK is a member of EV100 which is responsible for transitioning their transporters to low-carbon vehicles to reduce otherwise challenging scope 3 carbon emissions. As well as working towards sustainable transport, GSK has also created a range of low-carbon dry powder inhalers which have a 24 times lower life cycle carbon footprint than regular inhalers.

GSK are a member of the Water Resilience Coalition (WRC), which aims to achieve good water stewardship at all sites by 2025, reduce water usage by 20% by 2030, and conduct water-neutral operations in water-stressed areas. They work with WRC to achieve net positive water impacts, water-resilient value chain, and global water leadership. This emphasis on water preservation is imperative in pharma, which as an industry is reliant on incredibly pure water for injection (WFI) for the production of various injectable drugs and active pharmaceutical ingredients.

One ambition that separates GSK from other companies attempting to achieve net zero is that GSK is also working on conserving and improving biodiversity across their sites. GSK aim to derive 100% of forestry and agricultural materials from sustainable sources by 2030. They are taking measures to ensure that all raw materials are sustainably sourced, such as palm oil and wood as well as adding bird boxes to their sites and planting trees to increase biodiversity and population richness. An example of turning ambition into action can be seen at the GSK Stevenage site, where efforts to uplift biodiversity have focused on improving habitats and protecting local species – all in line with GSK’s target for a positive impact on biodiversity by 2030 across all owned sites.

Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson are working towards achieving carbon neutrality for all operations and reducing Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 60 % alongside reducing upstream scope 3 emissions by 20% by the year 2030.

The biopharma company is also aiming to source 100% renewable electricity by 2025; they say they are doing this through a “mix of wind and solar projects in Spain” which will produce clean energy that is equivalent to avoiding carbon emissions from “more than 41,00 passenger cars per year, or the annual electricity consumption of more than 82000 homes”. Over the past 17 years, Johnson and Johnson have prevented over 320,000 tonnes annually of carbon emissions, and they are also working on developing sustainable heating systems and launching decarbonisation programmes with their suppliers.

Also a member of the Energize programme, they announced a collaboration in 2022 called ‘Activate’ with five other companies to support suppliers for their decarbonisation efforts, demonstrating J&J’s commitment to tackling the hardest to reduce emissions – scope 3.

“At Johnson & Johnson, we care for the planet like our collective health depends on it…because it does.”
Paulette Frank, Chief Sustainability Officer for Johnson & Johnson

Opportunities to Reduce Carbon Footprint in the Life Science Sector

Life Science companies such as AZ and GSK have aspiring goals to achieve carbon net zero and minimize carbon footprint, however, there are still many other opportunities within each scope for companies to act on and achieve their targets. Some examples of these are:

– Demand reduction – Life Science organisations should explore means of reducing energy demand on their sites. This can be through behaviour change programmes or switch-off-optimisation plans (SWOOPs) or even through engineered solutions such as fresh air pre-treatment or air change rate reduction in cleanroom environments. (SCOPE 1)

– Green chemistry – Using safe and more sustainable chemicals and optimising reaction conditions to reduce carbon emissions and energy wastage so there is less environmental impact. (SCOPE 1)

– Waste reduction and recycling – Implementing recycling and waste reduction programmes within labs and sites. (SCOPE 1)

– Remote work – By allowing employees to work from home, car/transport emissions are decreased and therefore reducing GHG emissions and carbon footprint. (SCOPE 1)

– Renewable energy sources – Organisations can switch to using renewable energy sources (e.g., solar power, wind turbines, geothermal) to reduce reliance on unreliable fossil fuels. (SCOPE 2)

– Biodegradable products – Companies can create products that have a lower life cycle carbon footprint and will degrade naturally over time, reducing carbon emissions (SCOPE 3)

– Sustainable supply chains – Obtaining resources and services from sustainable suppliers reduces carbon footprint through responsible material sourcing, decreasing packaging waste and considering product transportation (e.g., more sustainable routes, electric vehicles). (SCOPE 3)


Unsure where to start your net zero journey?
Learn more about the road to zero here!