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Addressing the Carbon Impact of Biotech & Pharma Research in 2024

Flames and smoke from a wildfire burn through a forest. Source:

Are research labs playing their part in stemming the rising tides of global climate change? Last month My Green Lab released their latest report on the carbon impact of biotech and pharmaceutical research. The findings are mixed, at best.

My Green Lab’s 2023 Carbon Impact of Biotech & Pharma Report was produced in collaboration with with Intercontinental Exchange. It draws on data from more than 370 research-heavy biotech and pharma companies, charting their performance in the UNFCCC Race to Zero and the UNFCCC 2030 Breakthrough Outcomes (two key measure of progress towards a zero carbon future).

The report offers some great news. For example, 63% of biotech/pharma companies in the UNFCCC Race to Zero campaign have started a My Green Lab Certification. Nearly half of them have done so at a global scale. Promisingly, it is the largest companies (by revenue) who are progressing most rapidly in these areas.

But the report also found that 90% of the public biotech/pharma companies they analyzed still don’t have short term (2021–2025) targets aligned with keeping the world at or below the 1.5˚C threshold for global warming.

In fact, the overall carbon impact of the biotech and pharma sector has been rising relative to other industries. In 2021, biotech and pharma accounted for 3.9% of total global CO2 emissions. A year later, it was closer to 5%.

The Bad News Isn’t the Worst News

What’s most concerning is that even these dire numbers aren’t the whole picture. As the 2023 Carbon Impact report notes:

“This evaluation excludes the substantial impact of government labs, universities, and healthcare systems, so the total carbon emissions of the full Healthcare and Scientific Research industry are in fact much higher than what is included and analyzed within the scope of this study.”

The report goes on to explain that, once these sources are taken into account, the sector’s true total carbon impact jumps roughly 50%, to around 300 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. To put that in context, that’s roughly the same as the entire annual CO2 output of the nation of Nigeria—the 6th most populous country in the world, a nation of 230 million people facing acute risk of major social upheaval and famine due to climate change.

Accelerating the Shift to Sustainable Lab Operations

Priorclave has always sharply focused on efficiency and resiliency, supplying labs throughout the world with sterilizers that use 83% less energy and 97% less water than conventional models. As Priorclave North America CEO Barbra Wells recently explained:

“This is a disheartening report. We are nonetheless committed to driving a much needed—and often uncomfortable—conversation about sustainable lab operations, and our responsibility as researchers and innovators. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Priorclave is our commitment to supporting research that increases global sustainability. Part of that is making efficient autoclaves with a long working lifespan. But it also expands to include supporting the deployment of these autoclaves anywhere in the world, so that labs and facilities in the Global South and other areas highly affected by climate change have what they need to cultivate local expertise in biotech, agriculture, and pharmaceutical research. But perhaps a greater part is in making sure organizations have the information they need to make informed decisions that both serve their research needs and protect our shared resources.”