The eight levers to cut healthcare supply chain emissions

A taskforce set up to decarbonise healthcare supply chains has produced a set of recommendations to help organisations reach net zero.

In a report the Health Systems Taskforce recommended eight levers organisations can use to decarbonise healthcare supply chains, which are responsible for 4-5% of global emissions.

Launched at COP26 by the Sustainable Markets Initiative, the Health Systems Task Force brings together CEOs from pharmaceutical companies and healthcare organisations to take scalable action to collectively address emissions across supply chains, patient care pathways, and clinical trials.

The report said: “The healthcare sector generates approximately 4% to 5% of total global emissions, over half of which are driven by supply chains. The majority of these emissions are generated by early-stage processes, such as raw material extraction and processing.

“It is therefore essential for manufacturers to work alongside their suppliers to decarbonise supply chains for healthcare systems to reach net zero.”

The report lists eight levers: 

1. Product and packaging redesign. Redesign products and packaging to reduce material and energy use by changing formula and dosage requirements. Sanofi reduced the size of its packaging and replaced plastic with cardboard for its flu vaccine, reducing emissions by 15%.

2. Process efficiency. Improve process efficiency to cut emissions and save costs through data, by improving manufacturing, implementing digital twins, combining production stages, increased thermal and electric efficiency, solvent recycling, and redesigning processes with green principles

3. Renewable power. As industries increasingly electrify processes, renewable energy could reduce total emissions by 20% to 30% across supply chains. Switching to green electricity could be achieved through onsite projects, buying renewable energy certificates, or with power-purchase agreements.

4. Renewable heat and steam. Renewable low to mid-temperature heating can be decarbonised using electric heat pumps and steam boilers to replace natural gas up to 500 degrees Celsius, and with biomass heaters for temperatures above 500.

5. Regenerative agriculture. Farmers of plant-based inputs can adopt practices such as no-till agriculture, cover cropping, tree intercropping, and silvopasturing (integrating trees and livestock) to capture more carbon in the soil and reduce deforestation.

6. Carbon capture and storage. Carbon capture and storage will be necessary for transition to net zero, as most direct high-temperature processes are too difficult or costly to decarbonise. 

7. Clean transport. Transport emissions can be reduced by shifting over to greater levels of sea, road or rail freight rather than air. Battery-powered short haul lorries can solve emissions journeys less than 400 km, and bio-based or synthetic fuels can decarbonise long-distance travel. 

8. Feedstock switch. Non-renewable feedstocks can be substituted with renewable ones, which can have lower sourcing, processing, and disposal emissions. These might include bionaphtha, biomass, and green hydrogen.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), said: “The case for decarbonising our health systems is clear, and failing to keep the 1.5C goal alive will have irreversible impacts on global health. Transitioning to low-carbon, climate-resilient health systems is essential for every country’s journey towards universal health coverage.”

The taskforce includes AstraZeneca, GSK, Merck KGaA, Novo Nordisk, Roche, Samsung Biologics, Sanofi, Karolinska Institutet, NHS England, the Sustainable Healthcare Coalition, Unicef, the University of Pavia, and the WHO.

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