Please login to the form below

Addressing Climate Impact: The Healthcare Paradox

For the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry, the impact of climate change is twofold – responding to the increased risk of certain diseases and conditions and decarbonising their own processes and products to prevent worsening impact.

Andrew Harrison
Managing Director, Hanover Health

For the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry, the impact of climate change is twofold – responding to the increased risk of certain diseases and conditions and decarbonising their own processes and products to prevent worsening impact.

Observable effects of climate change are already being felt – for example, the Lancet’s 2019 report on the infection rates of dengue fever (expressed as vectorial capacity for transmissions) showed that nine of the ten most suitable years for transmission on record since 1950 have occurred since 2000. In 2018 there were 220 million more heatwave exposures affecting older populations increasing risks of heart and kidney stress and disease and stroke.

Yet, paradoxically, developing and delivering solutions to these challenges has a climate cost. Analysis has suggested that combined CO2 emissions from hospitals, health services and medical supply chains across the OECD group of market economies plus China and India comprise 4% of total global emissions footprint – greater than either aviation or shipping.

The NHS has been found to produce 5.4% of England’s total carbon emissions. For healthcare providers, challenges lie in areas such as transport, building efficiency and waste reduction – where high-quality waste products in operating theatres that could be recycled largely end up being labelled as infectious clinical waste and are incinerated at a high financial and environmental cost. Similarly, some procedures are particularly carbon intensive. Hospitals have been exploring solutions ranging from retrofitting heat recovery technology to dialysis machines, to switching operating room anaesthetics, which account for almost a third of the UK’s health and social care sector emissions, to less-polluting gas. Linked options include introducing technology to capture these gases and seeking alternative clinical techniques.

There is a clear role for industry to support healthcare providers through innovative product design. Boehringer Ingelheim recently introduced the first reusable, propellant-free inhaler for patients with asthma and COPD, supporting objectives of carbon and plastic waste reduction. An associated study suggested that the reusability of the inhaler reduces its carbon footprint by as much as 71% and should mean that over a million fewer inhalers are needed annually.

The challenge of producing sustainable medicines is also being explored by the Innovative Medicines Initiative. The scheme represents Europe’s largest public-private partnership in life sciences, between the European Commission and the European pharmaceutical industry. Its €26.m (£21.2m) CHEM21 project brings together six pharmaceutical companies, thirteen universities and four small and mid-sized enterprises from across Europe to develop sustainable biological and chemical alternatives to finite materials, such as precious metals, which are currently used as catalysts in the manufacture of medicines.
To minimise wider environmental impacts, efforts are being made to introduce biotechnology to the manufacturing processes for medicine production.

Nonetheless, it is critical that pharmaceutical companies retain a focus on driving decarbonisation and best practice sustainability in-house as well as in product design. In 2015 the global pharmaceutical industry produced 55% more CO2 than the automotive industry1. The NHS Sustainable Development Unit’s 2018 National Resources Footprint2 stated that pharmaceuticals are the second largest producer of both water footprint and carbon emissions (12.1%) relating to the healthcare service in England.

The shift to a far more rapid rate of decarbonisation across the pharmaceutical industry and the broader healthcare sector will require significant action. But trends have shown that focused efforts can deliver results on decarbonisation, and indeed can be delivered alongside economic growth and expansion of service. In the NHS emissions from health and social care have been cut by 18.5%3 since 2007, despite clinical activity rising by over a quarter over the same period.

Interestingly, the report on global pharmaceutical performance4 demonstrated that the companies leading on emissions (Amgen, Johnson & Johnson and Roche Holding) were also three of the most profitable in the sector. This is clear proof that there is economic opportunity in innovating for the future.

This article was originally published in 'Net Zero Unpacked: An Essential Guide for Business Strategy & Corporate Communications.

The report contains insights from leading companies both inside and outside of the healthcare industry including Novo Nordisk, Apple, Lucozade Ribena Suntory, Facebook, and Sky, on how businesses are acting to support Net Zero.

1 International comparison of health care carbon footprints: Peter-Paul Pichler, Ingram S Jaccard, Ulli Weisz and Helga Weisz,


3 Natural Resource Footprint 2018,

4 IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Datacenter 2019 Predictions,

26th February 2020



Company Details

Hanover Communications

+44 (0)20 7400 4480

Contact Website

70 Gray's Inn Road
United Kingdom

Latest content on this profile

What is everyone ‘ARPAing on about?
On Wednesday 16th September, Ursula Von Der Leyen, President of the European Union, announced in her State of Union address that they plan to develop BARDA, a Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency. This follows on from the Conservative Government pledging in their manifesto in late 2019 to develop ARPA, the Advanced Research Projects Agency. Both of these agencies are direct descendants of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency founded in the USA in 1958 to create “Nation technology-based options for preventing – and creating - technological surprise.” Technological surprise is a wonderfully euphemistic phrase which refers to military “surprise” in the context of the Cold War. However, in the context of a global pandemic and the politicisation of the race to find a vaccine many are now drawing Cold War comparisons. But can DARPA, ARPA or BARDA actually deliver technological surprise? Jennifer Blainey, Director, Hanover Health explores.
Hanover Communications
Tackling obesity via green prescribing: A piece of cake or a half-baked strategy?
In our new article, Lloyd Tingley explores the wider societal and behavioural factors that will impact the success of green prescribing and the obesity strategy, and the role companies will play in driving a society wide approach that impacts infrastructure, adherence, health inequalities, and more.
Hanover Communications
EU Pharmaceutical Strategy Roadmap
As discussed in a recent article, the next few years will define the future of life sciences and especially the regulation of breakthrough advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs) and orphan medicinal products (OMPs) in the EU. Here Senior Healthcare Director Emma Eatwell examines the impact of the recently-published European Commission Roadmap to develop an EU Pharmaceutical Strategy and considers what the the future looks like for ATMPs and OMPs.
Hanover Communications
Does digital primary care offer a sustainable solution?
After years in which the local GP surgery seemed stuck in the digital doldrums, the last few months have seen a digital revolution sweep across GP practices, driven by the extraordinary circumstances of the Coronavirus. NHS digital figures show that in 2019 less than one in every 100 GP appointments were carried out by online video consultation, and nearly 4 in 10 people had no access to online consultations at all. In the space of two months this has shifted, with GPs having to adapt to a new way of working while tackling the demands of a new disease. What does this all mean for the future of primary care? By Jack Turner, Senior Account Director, Hanover Healthcare.
Hanover Communications
Global communications during and post a worldwide pandemic: how can organisations break through the noise?
COVID-19 has understandably dominated the news agenda like no other story in a generation. But what about other disease areas that are both important and deserve public attention? How do we break through this wall, particularly as coronavirus looks set to govern the news agenda for the next few months at least, if not longer?
Hanover Communications
War on drugs: the use of controlled substances in medicine
Infamously coined America’s ‘public enemy number one’ by President Nixon, are controlled substances a fundamental missing part of modern medicine? By Emma Gorton, Senior Director at Hanover Communications
Hanover Communications