Big pharma has compelling reasons to change the way business gets done. The wave of interest in sustainability follows the value chain from top-tier pharmaceutical companies to their suppliers of every size. Leaders are hard at work focusing their efforts on how to use sustainability as a platform for innovation. Step one is to assess your corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies and ensure actions are integrated across the organization.

Where do most organizations start?
About 80% of pharmaceutical companies have announced a commitment to becoming carbon-neutral or made a net-zero pledge for carbon emissions.2 But even more may be expected of companies to reduce emissions as a result of the UN’s annual climate change conference, COP26. To minimize the impacts of global warming, the Glasgow Climate Pact established a standards body with much stricter pollution controls.

Johnson & Johnson was one of the first major companies to make a public commitment to the SDGs in 2016. Its sustainability platform, fueled by its Health for Humanity 2025 Goals, contributes to the global effort to achieve a majority of the SDGs by supporting 11 of the 17, spanning the spheres of global health, social justice, environmental stewardship, and responsible business practices.3 Johnson & Johnson calls upon its suppliers to join them in a readiness assessment with EcoVadis, the world’s largest provider of business sustainability ratings in the form of CSR scores. Companies are invited to reapply each year to be evaluated based on how their policies, actions, and results are impacting the environment, ethics, labor and human rights, and sustainable procurement.

Pharmaceutical companies are compared to their peers and can share their scorecards with clients, their employees, suppliers, and the public. With more than 75,000 companies in the EcoVadis network, the scorecard serves as a measurement with detailed insight into environmental, social, and ethical risks across 200 purchasing categories and 160 countries.4 Transparency helps others understand where corporations are focusing their efforts compared to the need. A CSR assessment can be useful to differentiate the company when engaging new clients or recruiting socially conscious job candidates. While any firm can claim to be environmentally conscious, having proof of it from a reputable external assessor reduces the risk of greenwashing.4

Social impact is also high on the list. What are the key issues?
Having strong CSR messaging can help throughout the employee journey, beginning in the recruiting cycle and extending to onboarding, training, and continuous programming to drive employee awareness and engagement. Increasing competition for talent, as well as the uncertainty of remote versus in-person workspaces, impacts new hire engagement. According to Gallup’s monthly employment trends, the percentage of employees working from home full-time (25%) and some of the time (20%) remained steady between July and September 2021. Remote workers polled at 90% when asked if they plan to maintain some remote hours moving forward.6 This adds a new dynamic for firms depending on the physical workspace to communicate goals and motivate on-site and virtual employees to participate in sustainability programming.

Promoting your sustainability platform, especially goals to reduce carbon emissions, has become an important part of the pharmaceutical recruiting process with job seekers counting sustainability among the qualities that make an employer attractive. Key findings from Pew Research Center show that the percentage of U.S. adults who say climate should be a top priority span the generations: 57% of Baby Boomers, 63% of Gen Xs, 71% of Millennials, and 67% of Gen Zs.5 The rise in virtual teams also presents some unique issues in measuring the company’s impact on the environment. Employees may feel that working from home eliminates or significantly reduces the carbon footprint; however, there is still a need to engage them in being environmentally proactive.

  • Digital apps, such as Enviro Hero, allow employees to calculate their carbon footprint at home and make commitments around reducing it. The roll-up at a company level serves as an inspiration and awareness-building opportunity that can be promoted using online vehicles like a Sustainability Channel on Slack.
  • org provides offsets for carbon emissions based on the firm’s number of employees, whether they are on-site or virtual. This is especially helpful for any size company. The offsets are achieved through an annual donation to environmental endeavors such as reforestation and renewable energy.
  • Both Zoom and DocuSign® offer calculations that express the reduction of waste enabled by the use of these tools.
  • Digital solutions can help employees and clients stay engaged in sustainability efforts as more transactions shift to virtual delivery.

And last, but certainly not least—governance. Why make it inviting?
Company policies, like the code of ethical conduct, are examples of governance that typically stem from the corporate level. Involving employees by inviting their input can increase their sense of ownership and accountability. All the more reason to get creative with engagement. Rob Ogle, President and CEO of Merit Leadership sounds the alert, “Every day, good people make poor choices. Ethics is a skill.” Based on years of study of hundreds of real-world dilemmas, Merit Leadership supplies tools, services, and consulting to help employees build the skills needed to make sound decisions under pressure. In The Business Ethics Field Guide, the firm breaks down the universe of ethical challenges into 13 easy-to-navigate dilemma types, giving employees a definitive practical guide to ethical decision-making.7

What’s Next? Track, measure, and improve.
For pharmaceutical organizations that seek to make environmental, social, and governance factors an integral part of their business, consider that sustainability goes beyond what a company controls internally. It extends to what a company purchases and from whom. Novartis, Orion, Takeda, Novo Nordisk, Janssen, Lundbeck, and Boehringer Ingelheim are reformulating medicines so they can be manufactured in a more environmentally friendly way, with fewer carbon emissions, less water, and less waste.2 Whether energy is being consumed or raw materials are purchased, the adoption of sustainable practices thrives across the value chain. Adding sustainable procurement to your ESG efforts widens its reach and impact.

Our world is in our hands. The more effort we put in, the better it will be for everyone.

Sunny White
Sunny White is an Editorial Advisory Board member for the Pharma Marketing Network with unique insights into how sustainability is moving across the value chain in the pharmaceutical industry. In 2020, Johnson & Johnson invited Sunny’s Healthcare Marketing Agency, Xavier Creative House (XCH), to participate in an EcoVadis Assessment to evaluate and score its actions, behaviors, and impact on the environment, labor and human rights, and ethics. XCH ranked in the top 10% of advertising and market research firms assessed globally, achieving a silver medal. Sunny’s agency specializes in pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device.
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  1. Bloomberg Green. COP26’s message to companies is clear: speed up your net-zero plans. Accessed December 7, 2021.
  2. The CSR Journal. What is Big Pharma doing to tackle climate change? Accessed December 7, 2021.
  3. Johnson & Johnson. Health for Humanity 2025 Goals. Accessed December 7, 2021.
  4. Accessed December 7, 2021.
  5. Pew Research Center. Key findings: How Americans’ attitudes about climate change differ by generation, party, and other factors. Accessed December 7, 2021.
  6. Supplygem. 39 Remote Statistics. Accessed March 28, 2023.
  7. Merit Leadership. Most organizations facing ethics scandals have an annual compliance training program. Accessed December 7, 2021.