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Author's profile photo Vincent Varain

Achieving Sustainability in the Life Sciences Industry: A Path Forward

Trends and challenges in the Life Sciences industry

Did you know that the healthcare systems account for over 4% of global CO2 emissions on the global average basis? If you are reading this, chances are high that you are living in one of the industrialized nations, where this figure even is closer to 10% of the national emissions. “As an industry, which includes health technology companies, healthcare systems and other stakeholders, we have a responsibility to act. It is time to extend the principle of “first, do no harm” – the very foundation of healthcare – to the planet.” (Here’s how healthcare can reduce its carbon footprint | World Economic Forum (

The life sciences industry plays an integral role in global health, developing vaccines, ensuring safe medicine production, and contributing significantly to overall well-being. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry’s focus necessarily shifted to address immediate health crises, slowing progress towards sustainability. However, as we move into a post-pandemic world, it’s time to reassess and reinvigorate these efforts.

To do so, life sciences organizations need to act on recent trends and overcome current challenges for the life sciences industry:

First, life sciences and healthcare organizations are implementing programs to improve sustainability and aspire to work with partners who do the same. The biggest challenge in this is that partners like distributors, pharmacies, providers, and payers are now expecting accurate and transparent disclosure and sharing of carbon footprint and other sustainability metrics.

Second, while they have the aspirational goal to move from reporting average sustainability metrics to actuals, they need to overcome the challenge on how to move towards an accurate, reliable, and reportable carbon accounting framework.

What does the research say?

Sustainability plans are available but with a gap between intention and execution

A recent survey conducted by SAP and Oxford Economics, involving 1,935 senior executives including 215 from the life sciences sector, provides valuable insights into the state of sustainability within the industry.

The majority of life sciences organizations (68%) have communicated sustainability plans emphasizing operational efficiency, with two-thirds identifying this as the primary driver of their sustainability policies.

But the journey towards a sustainable business cannot be undertaken in isolation. Encouragingly, 80% have initiated or established policies for sustainable collaboration with vendors and suppliers. However, only half have created joint sustainability plans with these partners, indicating a gap between intention and execution.

Sustainable sourcing and suppliers

While over half of executives (53%) have started sourcing sustainable materials, and 43% have established networks to reduce waste in their operations, only 17% agree that it is important to have partnerships with businesses that prioritize sustainable energy in their operations.
Moreover, the industry struggles with issues such as low-quality operational waste by-products and insufficient participation in waste by-product networks.

Internal Workforce and along the supply chain

Workforce and supplier relationships also play a critical role in sustainability. While 56% of executives have incorporated anti-discrimination policies, other key issues, such as equal pay and slavery-free supply chains, have received less attention. Furthermore, despite heavy regulation, only 43% have created rigorous safety policies, and fewer still conduct regular safety checks on equipment.

Data management

Data management and analysis are critical tools for advancing sustainability. More than half of life sciences executives have increased their investment in data analysis, and some have even trained their staff in sustainability policies and data capture. However, the industry lags in its ability to capture and utilize data effectively, particularly when it comes to sustainability data from vendors and business partners.

As we move forward, the life sciences industry has the opportunity to reshape its strategies to become more sustainable. This includes automating processes to improve sustainability data recording, increasing collaboration and networking, expanding sustainability efforts beyond regulatory requirements, and reassessing internal policies to better support workers.

The path to sustainability in life sciences is complex, but with commitment, collaboration, and innovative thinking, the industry has the potential to emerge as a leader in sustainable business practices.

What are the leaders in sustainability doing to be ahead of the curve?

A small group of companies, dubbed “Sustainability Leaders,” provide a blueprint for progress. These companies have invested in data analysis, established models to measure sustainability performance, and developed systems to accurately track carbon output. Emulating these practices could help more organizations achieve significant or transformative change.

How can technology support the journey?

Data capturing: Automate processes to better record sustainability data

Many processes in life sciences are still manual, hindering efforts to increase sustainability. Cloud ERP (Cloud ERP: The Future of Enterprise Resource Planning | SAP) is the foundation for the transition from manual to digitally automated processes. The saying “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” applies to sustainability as well.

Recently SAP has added the ability to measure sustainability outcomes introducing the green line. To manage the green line, companies need business process technology to identify, quantify, analyse, and act on data through their end-to-end operations. To enable this, SAP Cloud for Sustainable Enterprises, brings together a comprehensive portfolio of solutions that enables businesses to holistically manage sustainability performance.

Increase collaboration and networking

COVID-19 taught the industry the benefit of these practices and now it’s time to implement them to achieve sustainability goals.

SAP Business Network for Life Sciences ( can help life sciences companies increase visibility across the supply chain, streamline collaboration with contract manufacturers, comply with quality regulations, improve inventory management and measure carbon emissions.

In the strive for zero waste by incorporating resilience and circularity in the supply chain, SAP has invested heavily to support sustainability processes and supply chain partner collaboration to drive sustainability.

This extends from tracking carbon emissions across the entire supply chain to ensuring the trading partners in the supply chain are ethical businesses with fair labour policies.


In conclusion, the life sciences industry stands at a pivotal point in its journey towards sustainability. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the industry’s critical role in global health and now, as we move into a post-pandemic world, the focus must shift towards sustainable practices. The challenges are multifaceted, including the need for transparent sustainability metrics, accurate carbon accounting, sustainable sourcing, fair labour practices, and effective data management. However, these challenges also present opportunities for transformative change. Technology, particularly SAP Cloud for Sustainable Enterprises and SAP Business Network for Life Sciences, can support this shift by automating processes, streamlining collaboration, and providing a comprehensive platform to manage sustainability performance. By emulating the sustainability leaders, committing to continuous improvement, and harnessing the power of technology, the life sciences industry has the potential to emerge as a beacon of sustainability, driving both operational efficiency and global health outcomes.


Here’s how healthcare can reduce its carbon footprint | World Economic Forum (

survey conducted by SAP and Oxford Economics

Cloud ERP: The Future of Enterprise Resource Planning | SAP

SAP Cloud for Sustainable Enterprises

SAP Business Network for Life Sciences

Further interesting reads

CLOSING THE GREEN GAP: How network effects take corporate sustainability from commitment to impact (gated content)

Why Life Sciences Companies Are Turning to Business Networks

How Can the Chemicals Industry Capitalize On Carbon Reduction Opportunities?

Did you know that clinical trials heavily impact sustainability? Learn more on clinical trials in the blog series on SAP Intelligent Clinical Supply Management. Let me know in the comments if you want to hear more about sustainability in clinical trials and on how other life sciences industry-specific software solutions can help you to achieve your sustainability goals.


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