International pharmaceutical and medical device guidelines

Carbon footprinting pharmaceuticals and medical devices

Globally pharmaceuticals and medical devices contribute a significant proportion of healthcare associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The Sustainable Development Unit has been working with a range of pharmaceutical and medical devices companies to find ways to reduce the carbon footprint of pharmaceuticals and medical devices. In 2012 we formed an international alliance that created the first document providing a method for consistently calculating the carbon footprint of pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

New international guidelines

The SDU believe that standardised guidance is essential if the NHS and other health systems are to create a model for sustainable healthcare. Accurate Greenhouse Gas (GHG) accounting and reporting requires detailed processes, and measuring GHG emissions of healthcare products consistently will help us to identify emissions “hot-spots”.  Understanding the GHG "hot spots" of a product will allow us to focus our attention on areas where the greatest GHG reductions can be achieved. 

The guidance document and a summary of the guidance, both published in November 2012, are available to download at the bottom of this page. 

Both documents are also available on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol website HERE.

Further information


Globally pharmaceuticals contribute a large proportion of healthcare associated GHG emissions.  The SDU’s research suggests that in 2012 21% of NHS in England GHG emissions were attributable to pharmaceuticals and 11% to medical devices.

About this guidance

The SDU and an alliance of international pharmaceutical and medical devices companies commissioned the sustainability consultancy Environmental Resources Management (ERM) to write industry specific guidance to aid in consistent greenhouse gas accounting and reporting for pharmaceuticals and medical devices.
ERM and the SDU collaborated with manufacturers, carbon footprinting specialists and healthcare experts, to develop this guidance. An extensive public consultation period was undertaken and the document was launched through an event held at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, UK on the 30th of November 2012.

The collaboration has resulted in internationally relevant guidance that facilitates greater uniformity in GHG accounting and reporting for pharmaceuticals and medical devices right across the product ‘life cycle’ from manufacture, through use to disposal.

This guidance will allow industry to more easily highlight areas of intensive GHG use and consequently focus efforts to reduce GHG emissions from the healthcare sector. In the future the guidance may be used to inform procurement decisions or as the basis for the creation of product category rules, which could be used to compare the GHG emissions of two equivalent products.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) have reviewed the guidance and awarded it their Built on Greenhouse Gas Protocol Mark, which means that it meets their international greenhouse gas protocol standard. 

Further information and feedback on the guidance

If you would like further information about the project or to comment on the guidance documents please email  

PowerPoint Presentations from the launch event for the guidance (held at St. Thomas’ Hospital, November 30th 2012) are available to download below. 

Procurement of high GHG pharmaceutical prescription items

The Carbon Footprint updates for NHS in England 2012 report calculates the GHG impact of NHS in England to be 24.7 Mt CO2e (1). The GHG emissions from procurement were estimated in the report as 15.2 Mt CO2e, representing 61% of the total footprint. Of this, 5.1 Mt CO2e is attributed to the procurement of pharmaceuticals representing 21% of the total footprint

This report focuses on identifying the likely priorities from all the pharmaceutical prescription items procured by NHS in England. Once these items are identified, targeted measurement through their manufacture and prescription can be considered as a next step.

See also procurement section 

ABPI blister pack carbon footprint tool was developed for the ABPI by the Carbon Trust with contributions from the ABPI, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen (J&J), Eli Lilly, and Pfizer. The tool provides a quick approximation of the carbon impacts of pharmaceutical tablets in blister packs. This information can be used to prioritise more detailed footprinting studies and carbon reduction initiatives. The tool has been designed for the UK pharmaceutical market.