Healthcare cannot wait to integrate sustainability into business

Alessandro Chiesi explains why the EU must address the fact that climate change represents a significant threat to respiratory health.
| Photo credit: Chiesi

By Alessandro Chiesi

02 Mar 2020

Respiratory diseases continue to burden society, with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) alone accounting for over 40 percent of all respiratory disease deaths in the European Union and a quarter of COPD patients going to the emergency room at least once a year.

Many of us know of COPD as a smoker’s disease, but we cannot ignore the fact that climate change represents a significant threat to respiratory health, with 15 to 20 percent of COPD cases caused by exposure to airborne pollutants.

The EU has set its sights high for the European Green Deal, with the aim of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Explicitly acknowledging the link between the health of the environment and the impact this has on our quality of life is a critical step forward.


If the goal of the pharmaceutical industry is to provide the best, most innovative treatments, then we need to make sure that those same activities both take care of patient health and respecting the environment. Greening healthcare is going to take considerable investment and time, but it can be done.

Within the context of strained healthcare budgets, faced with providing services for an ageing population that will live longer with diseases such as COPD, the pharmaceutical industry has a responsibility to take on its share of the burden.

We believe that the environmental footprint and lifecycle of medicines should be an important R&D consideration for every treatment on the market, new and old. That is why we have decided to make it a contractual obligation by changing our legal status to a Benefit corporation.

This means we want to make a positive impact on society and the environment, in addition to the objective of generating profit. Our certification as a Benefit corporation also helps us track our positive impact and underpins our commitment to become climate neutral by 2035.

"Greening healthcare is going to take considerable investment and time, but it can be done"

We see this as a competitive edge that can provide critical lessons for businesses across Europe. For example, we have taken a systemic approach to reduce the environmental footprint of our products, starting with inhalers - one of our largest product portfolios.

Last December, we announced that by 2025 we will have reduced the carbon footprint of our pressurised metered dose inhalers (pMDIs) – often used to treat COPD – by 90 percent. Since then, another major pharmaceutical company in the respiratory space has joined us in our effort to tackle the footprint of pMDI inhalers.

This means we can guarantee patients continued access to the therapeutic options they need while reducing CO2 emissions throughout our value chains. We invite our industry peers to join us in taking decisive action to deliver on the ambitious goals set by EU policymakers.

Patients should not have to shoulder the burden of environmental responsibility when considering treatment options that affect their health. In the face of a global climate crisis, we must all share the burden of action.

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