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Ecological footprint
of the pharmaceutical
industry in Germany


Association of Research-based Pharmaceutical Companies (VFA)



The transition of the economy and society as a whole to a climate-neutral economy and way of living remains one of the key challenges facing us today. A fundamental component for the achievement of climate neutrality is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions produced by industry but also making industrial processes more sustainable. 

On behalf of the Association of Research-based Pharmaceutical Companies (vfa), Prognos examined the global ecological footprint of the pharmaceutical industry in Germany. For this purpose, Prognos determined the global climate-damaging emissions, water consumption and energy use generated by the pharmaceutical industry and then compared this data with other sectors in Germany as well as relevant pharmaceutical locations abroad. 

It is important to highlight the global nature of the study as previous investigations have limited their consideration to emission load and use of resources at regional level. Emissions or resource intensive processes that are shifted abroad are not usually assigned to inland industry. This means that an industrial sector can be responsible for significant amounts of climate-damaging emissions globally, but still appear sustainable from a national perspective and even fulfil national industry targets. For the first time, the global view used in the current study applies a more transparent approach to the sector. 

How sustainable is the German pharmaceutical industry?

Overall, the pharmaceutical industry in German takes a leading role on the path to ecological sustainability. 

  • Greenhouse gas emissions and energy use in the German pharmaceutical industry are – relative to size – low, compared to other industries. Water consumption, however, is above average high in the pharmaceutical industry compared to other sectors.
  • In comparison with other globally significant pharmaceutical locations Germany is relatively sustainable. However, the pharmaceutical industries in Switzerland, France and the United States have achieved higher efficiency and generate – relative to size – lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Energy and water use is also lower in both neighbouring countries than it is in Germany.
  • Since 2010, the ecological footprint of the pharmaceutical industry in Germany has decreased less than in most comparable sectors – albeit starting from an already low level. In addition, other global pharmaceutical locations such as Switzerland and the United States have been able to further reduce their ecological footprint more strongly. 

Our approach

The ecological footprint of the German pharmaceutical industry was established for three categories: greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, energy use. We used a method established in the scientific literature to determine emissions and consumption along the entire value chain of the German pharmaceutical industry, both nationally and internationally. In essence, data on global value chains from the OECD database TIVA (Trade in Value Added) is linked to information on industry-specific emissions and consumption intensities.

Links and downloads

The study (vfa website in German)

Project team: Jakob Ambros, Leilah Dismond, Dr Andreas Sachs

Last update: 15.01.2024

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Dr Andreas Sachs

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Jakob Ambros


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