Seven CEOs from major pharma companies including AstraZeneca, GSK, Novo Nordisk and Merck KGaA recently announced an effort to reach emissions reduction targets and boost net zero healthcare.

The companies are partnering through the Sustainable Markets Initiative Health Systems Task Force, which will aim to tackle emissions throughout several areas of the healthcare system — including patient care, clinical trials and supply chains.

In an announcement this week, the companies acknowledged the link between climate change and public health – noting that environmental issues like air pollution can lead to negative health impacts, including the rise of infectious diseases, mental health risks and earlier deaths.

The latest joint agreement pinpointed supply chain emissions as one of its main targets, as they contribute to more than 50% of healthcare emissions. The companies outlined several goals, including creating common supplier standards, transitioning to renewable energy and investigating green heat solutions by 2025. They also aim to move their car fleets to zero-emission vehicles by 2030.

The partnership also plans to tackle emissions linked to patient care and clinical trials by starting to track and report Phase II and III trial emissions by 2025.

The collaboration signals a shift from the emergency phase of the COVID-19 pandemic to focusing on climate change as an emerging health crisis.

“Climate change is the greatest global health threat of our time,” AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said in a statement. “During the pandemic, the healthcare sector stepped up and showed what can be achieved when we work together. Today, we act with the same urgency to tackle the climate crisis, with the collective commitments announced by the Sustainable Markets Initiative Health Systems Task Force setting a benchmark for others to drive action.”

Like most industries, the pharma sector contributes to greenhouse gas emissions throughout most of the drug development and manufacturing stages – even exceeding the amount of emissions of the auto industry, according to a 2019 report.

 Some pharma companies emit more than others, that same report found. For example, Eli Lilly’s emissions were 5.5 times greater than that of Roche in 2015.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, noted the joint venture demonstrates “the power of public-private partnership to achieve positive and sustainable change for the health of people and the planet.”