New carbon footprint tool launched to calculate the carbon footprint of pharmaceutical products

  • ABPI (Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry) collaborates with the Carbon Trust to help pharmaceutical companies quickly estimate the carbon footprint of tablet medicines distributed in blister packs
  • Development of new tool funded by ABPI, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmith Kline, Janssen (J&J), Eli Lilly, and Pfizer

The tool, a  first of its kind for the pharmaceutical sector, was developed in collaboration with the Carbon Trust and funded by the ABPI, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen-(J&J), Eli Lilly, and Pfizer. This tool will help companies estimate the carbon footprint of tablet medicines in blister packs in a way that is relatively quick and easy. It is a demonstration of the industry’s commitment to help reduce its impact on the environment through sustainable practices including management of carbon footprints.

A range of data has been incorporated into the model which covers carbon emissions for Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs), transport and distribution, formulation and packaging, retail and use phase and finally the disposal of the packaging.

It is intended to give an indicative view of the carbon impact of a particular product and allow screening of large product portfolios to identify hot-spots.  Companies can then decide where to prioritise resource and investment in addressing the key environmental impacts by gathering more accurate, company-specific data to improve the output estimates.

The development of this tool forms part of the ABPI’s commitment to help its members to identify carbon hot-spots for products and areas for potential carbon footprint reduction. These may include raw materials manufacture, selection of materials and transport.

Stephen Whitehead, Chief Executive, ABPI

The SDU is delighted to support the launch of this tool. It adds real value to the body of evidence emerging around the carbon footprinting of pharmaceutical products which account for approximately 20% of the NHS carbon footprint. This tool should be useful to manufacturers, commissioners and providers to start highlighting carbon hotspots and to target work to reduce emissions further.

Sonia Roschnik Head of the NHS Sustainable Development Unit

There is an increasing awareness among pharmaceutical companies that emissions outside their direct control can represent opportunities to improve cost efficiencies and reduce emissions. Mounting pressure to demonstrate environment impacts of products to customers is also a key driver for action across the sector. The launch of the foot printing tool is a really positive step towards helping these companies to understand the embodied carbon of different drugs and shows what can be achieved through sector-wide collaboration.

Hugh Jones, Managing Director, Business Advice at The Carbon Trust


The model, developed by the Carbon Trust takes the full lifecycle of tablet medicines blister packs in to account. 



ABPI Press Office

Tel: +44 (0) 20 7747 1441

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Carbon Trust Press Office

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Notes to Editor

The following provides detail on the areas covered by the footprinting tool:

  • APIs - The tool includes default emission factors and calculation model for Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) are based on the statistical assessment of 29 APIs that had been previously foot printed by the member companies and the Carbon Trust
  • Transport and distribution - With the exception of air freight, transport does not usually contribute a significant amount to the overall footprint of blister pack pharmaceuticals. As a result, transport data is requested in three distance bands (short, medium and long haul). The distances vary by mode of transport and are listed in the information box next to the input table for transport to formulation site
  • Formulation and packaging - The energy figures for formulation and packaging are based on average data from multiple facilities of one pharmaceutical company
  • Retail and use phase - The model distinguishes between pharmacies and hospitals in terms of the retail and use phase of the products. For pharmacies, it is assumed that each pack is sold in a paper bag with two adhesive labels. This is conservative, as it does not account for multiple prescriptions in one bag or non-prescription tablets which may not have the bag and labels. For hospitals, the use phase includes the use of a disposable 30ml polypropylene cup in which tablets are presented to the patient. An average of two tablets per cup has been assumed. Wastage from unused tablets has not been taken into account. The functional units for this model are effectively per tablet or pack sold, rather than per tablet taken
  • End of life - The end of life of the packaging is fully modelled within this tool, including the wastage during the packaging process and waste transport. For the cardboard and paper elements of the packaging, average commercial and domestic recycling rates have been applied, but the blister strip materials are assumed to be non-recyclable.

About the ABPI

The ABPI represents innovative research-based biopharmaceutical companies, large, medium and small, leading an exciting new era of biosciences in the UK.

Our industry, a major contributor to the economy of the UK, brings life-saving and life-enhancing medicines to patients. Our members supply 90 per cent of all medicines used by the NHS, and are researching and developing over two-thirds of the current medicines pipeline, ensuring that the UK remains at the forefront of helping patients prevent and overcome diseases.

The ABPI is recognised by government as the industry body negotiating on behalf of the branded pharmaceutical industry, for statutory consultation requirements including the pricing scheme for medicines in the UK.

About the Carbon Trust

The Carbon Trust is an independent company with a mission to accelerate the move to a sustainable, low carbon economy. The Carbon Trust:

  • Advises businesses, governments and the public sector on opportunities in a sustainable, low carbon world.
  • Measures and certifies the environmental footprint of organisations, products and services.
  • Helps develop and deploy low carbon technologies and solutions, from energy efficiency to renewable power.