Sustainability commitments alone  won’t stop the climate crisis

The climate crisis is a health crisis. Most recently, the European Respiratory Society published the latest evidence of how climate change impacts people with asthma.1 With our shared mission to improve lives and well-being, the pharmaceutical community is central to meeting and overcoming this challenge. That means playing our part in treating the symptoms of this crisis through innovative, safe and effective medical products and treatments – but there is another element. The global pharmaceutical community must also address the root causes of the crisis in lung and respiratory health by reducing – specifically and significantly – our own environmental footprint.

In doing so, we can collectively feed the corporate sustainability conversation from its current preoccupation with announcements and commitments and lead the sector towards taking action. It’s now time for corporations to go beyond announcements and to talk about what we have done, are doing, and will do. This new phase, for me, is about accountability.

Over the last few years, the sustainability movement has grown across all sectors of society and industry. Isolated calls for urgent and pervasive change have translated into bold and far-reaching sustainability announcements by corporations, many going beyond those of governments and international organisations.

But for experts and non-experts alike, it has become difficult to understand what these different commitments mean, how they compare and how they will be achieved. Rushing out announcements in response to urgent societal pressure or to gain positive media coverage and demonstrate our involvement could serve in the short term to increase awareness but is not per se in the interest of our collective goal. Nor is celebrating announcements as stand-alone accomplishments instead of waiting until we can verify progress on these.

While we at Chiesi have set our own targets, we have come to believe that if these commitments are not followed by independently verified actions according to international standards the commitments themselves are just words. This is why comprehensive and long-lasting measurement standards and frameworks are essential to encourage and track progress towards a low-carbon society. They allow businesses to plan and implement carbon reduction targets with full transparency and reliable accuracy. They help citizens and policymakers identify – and then support, encourage and implement – those mitigation measures that demonstrably make a difference.

Already today, there are many resources to achieve and demonstrate carbon neutrality at an individual company level. For example, the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) supports businesses in setting their carbon reduction targets, ensuring that these are based on a clearly defined and future-proof plan.2 Using the PAS 2060 specification process by the British Standards Institute, businesses can demonstrate the value and efficacy of their plans, including mitigation actions and carbon offsetting of residual greenhouse gas emissions.3 And by committing to the Carbon Disclosure Project, companies are obligated to disclose their direct and indirect emissions inventory on a yearly basis.4

Beyond just carbon reduction, initiatives like the B Corp certification can help businesses strive for a certain level of environmental and social performance, benchmarking them against other companies and independently measuring their progress.5 As the largest pharmaceutical B Corp,6 we hope that other companies will also pursue this path to be continuously assessed and measured according to B Corp’s standards, reporting both positive impacts and challenges transparently. A company’s sustainability journey is an ongoing process, but improvement and tougher goals are only possible if the approach is honest, transparent and based on realistic yet bold targets.

In November, world leaders will meet in Glasgow for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). Six years after the Paris Agreement was signed at COP21,7 this conference is an opportunity to strengthen the call for action and accountability. Chiesi will participate as part of the UN’s Race to Zero8 campaign and hopes that other industry players will join in prioritising actions over words.

In the face of the global climate crisis, we must all share the burden of action.

Ugo Di Francesco is chief executive officer of Chiesi Group


The European Respiratory Society, “European Respiratory Society position statement on asthma and environment”

The Science-based Targets Initiative, “How it works”

British Standards Institution, “PAS 2060 Carbon Neutrality”

Certified Carbon Neutral Global Standard, “The Carbon Neutral Protocol January 2021”

B Corporation,

B Corporation, “B Corp Directory: Chiesi Group”

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “The Paris Agreement”

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “Race to Zero Campaign”