Japan Shifts Toward Environmentally Friendly Pharma Practices


JMA Journal report describes how businesses in this Asian-Pacific nation are employing various strategies to reduce GHG emissions.

Image credit: Malp | stock.adobe.com

Image credit: Malp | stock.adobe.com

As published in the JMA Journal, healthcare accounts for approximately 5% of GHG emissions estimated based on economic costs (in Japan alone).1 In the medical sector, pharmaceuticals account for a large proportion of these emissions; in fact, a recent study found that the pharmaceutical industry is more emission-intensive than the automotive industry.2 Investigations of the breakdown of GHG-induced emissions in healthcare services in Japan revealed that pharmaceuticals have the largest share, at 11.3 mega tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (27%).1

GHG produced during drug manufacturing is generally estimated in three scopes:

  • Scope 1: Encompasses direct emissions from equipment and business activities owned by the company
  • Scope 2: Includes indirect emissions from the production of energy used in the company’s activities
  • Scope 3: Covers GHG emissions outside the scope of the company’s ownership or control but related to its supply chain (such as material procurement, logistics, sales, and disposal)

Regarding biotechnology and the healthcare and pharma sectors, 6 of the 14 highest-ranking companies in the world are located in Japan, compared to one or two companies in other nations. Each pharmaceutical company has generally set high emissions goals, although these goals do not necessarily match due to operational differences between companies. Standard strategies to reduce GHG emissions include consolidation of plant facilities, use of renewable energy and eco-cars, simplified packaging of drugs, and shortening of the supply chain.

Stakeholders, including healthcare providers, could further encourage movement toward environmentally-friendly pharmaceuticals by market mechanism by prescribing drugs with less environmental burden. Any clinicians can recognize corporate efforts to protect the environment and contribute to developing environmentally friendly medicine for sustainable growth.

While Scope 3 can be difficult to estimate due to the range areas involved, it represents a promising target for reduction of emissions. A company that understands Scope 3 can be considered “environmentally conscious.” The efforts of a number of companies have been objectively evaluated, and certification organizations have recognized several companies. The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) was established as an international environmental nonprofit organization operating a global environmental disclosure system for corporations and municipalities.

To ensure the sustainable development of a pharmaceutical company, it is important to promote external environmental activities, build trust with shareholders, raise awareness within the company, and, most importantly, reduce manufacturing environmental costs. Each pharmaceutical company has generally set high emissions goals, although these goals do not necessarily match due to operational differences between companies. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan aimed to reduce overall GHG emissions to zero by 2050 (i.e., to achieve a carbon-neutral, decarbonized society by 2050). Although GHG emissions are increasing in China and the US, they decreased from 2013 to 2019 in the UK, Australia, and Japan.


1. Nansai K, Fry J, Malik A, et al. Carbon footprint of Japanese health care services from 2011 to 2015. Resource Conserv Recycling. 2020;152:104525

2. Belkhir L, Elmeligi A. Carbon footprint of the global pharmaceutical industry and relative impact of its major players. J Cleaner Product. 2019;214:185-94.

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