Rarely does mention of the pharmaceutical industry conjure up images of smoke stacks, pollution and environmental damage.

Yet our recent study found the worldwide pharmaceutical industry is just not only a big contributor to global warming, but additionally it is dirtier than the worldwide automotive production sector.

It was a surprise to search out how little attention researchers have paid to the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. Only two other studies had some relevance: one checked out the environmental impact of the U.S. health-care system and the opposite on the pollution (mostly water) discharged by drug manufacturers.

Our study was the primary to evaluate the carbon footprint of the pharma sector.

More polluting

More than 200 corporations represent the worldwide pharmaceutical market, yet only 25 consistently reported their direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions prior to now five years. Of those, only 15 reported their emissions since 2012.

One immediate and striking result’s that the pharmaceutical sector is way from green. We assessed the sector’s emissions for each million dollars of revenue in 2015. Larger businesses will all the time generate more emissions than smaller ones; to be able to do a good comparison, we evaluated emissions intensity.

We found it was 48.55 tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) per million dollars. That’s about 55 per cent greater than the automotive sector at 31.4 tonnes of CO2e/$M for that very same yr. We restricted our evaluation to the direct emissions generated by the businesses’ operations and to the indirect emissions generated by the electricity purchased by these corporations from their respective utilities corporations.

The total global emissions of the pharma sector amounts to about 52 megatonnes of CO2e in 2015, greater than the 46.4 megatonnes of CO2e generated by the automotive sector in the identical yr. The value of the pharma market, nevertheless, is smaller than the automotive market. By our calculations, the pharma market is 28 per cent smaller yet 13 per cent more polluting than the automotive sector.

Extreme variability

We also found emissions intensity varied greatly throughout the pharmaceutical sector. For example, the emissions intensity of Eli Lilly (77.3 tonnes of CO2e/$M) was 5.5 times greater than Roche (14 tonnes CO2e/$M) in 2015, and Procter & Gamble’s CO2 emissions were five times greater than Johnson & Johnson despite the fact that the 2 corporations generated the identical level of revenues and sell similar lines of products.

Energy use, including heating, ventilation and air con, within the manufacturing facilities of pharmaceutical corporations produces large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.

We found outliers too. The German company Bayer AG reported emissions of 9.7 megatonnes of CO2e and revenues of US$51.4 billion, yielding an emission intensity of 189 tonnes CO2e/$M. This intensity level is greater than 4 times greater than the general pharmaceutical sector.

In trying to elucidate this incredibly large deviation, we found that Bayer’s revenues derive from pharmaceutical products, medical equipment and agricultural commodities. While Bayer reports its financial revenues individually for every division, it lumps together the emissions from all of the divisions. The company also reports and tracks its emission intensity when it comes to tonnes of CO2e produced for every tonne of manufactured goods, whether fertilizer or Aspirin, for instance.

This level of opacity makes it not only unattainable to evaluate the true environmental performance of those type of corporations. It also raises questions on the sincerity of those corporations’ strategies and actions in reducing their contribution to climate change.

Climate compliance

We also estimated how much the pharmaceutical sector would have to scale back its emissions to comply with the reduction targets within the Paris Agreement.

We found that by 2025, the general pharma sector would wish to scale back its emissions intensity by about 59 per cent from 2015 levels. While that is clearly a far cry from their current levels, it’s interesting to notice that a number of the 15 largest corporations are already operating at that level, namely Amgen Inc., Johnson & Johnson and Roche Holding AG.

If those performance levels are achievable by some, why can’t they be achieved by all?

Three of probably the most profitable pharmaceutical corporations have a number of the lowest greenhouse gas emissions.

These three leading corporations are also those with the best level of profitability and revenue growth in the entire sector. Indeed Roche, Johnson & Johnson and Amgen showed revenue increases of 27.2 per cent, 25.7 per cent and seven.8 per cent respectively between 2012 and 2015, while managing to scale back their emissions by 18.7 per cent, 8.3 per cent and eight per cent respectively. This supports the premise that environmental and financial performance aren’t mutually exclusive.

The pharmaceutical industry is accountable for some serious environmental impacts beyond greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the waste water from drug manufacturers in Patancheru, India has left river sediment, ground water and drinking water polluted. Researchers estimated that in a single day, 44 kilograms of ciprofloxacin, a broad-spectrum antibiotic, was released — enough to treat everyone in a city of 44,000 inhabitants.

Clearly, there may be a dire need for more extensive and sustained research in addition to more scrutiny of the pharmaceutical industry’s environmental practices and performance. Healing people isn’t any justification for killing the planet.

This article was originally published at theconversation.com