Pam Cheng

Earth-friendly pharma

2 minute read
Updated: | Originally published:

The pharmaceutical industry isn’t exactly a model of sustainability. It’s been a challenge to introduce environmentally responsible practices in an industry built on the use of fossil fuels to drive its energy needs, from expensive research labs and manufacturing facilities to fueling the trucks that deliver its final products. 

As executive vice president of operations and IT at AstraZeneca, Pam Cheng is changing that. In addition to overseeing manufacturing and supply chains across the company’s facilities worldwide, she is also its chief sustainability officer. It’s a natural convergence of duties, she says, since the health care system overall, including hospitals, contributes to 5% of global emissions. “We are in the business of helping people become healthy. But without a healthy planet, it’s a moot point,” Cheng says. “We see a connectivity between the health of people and a healthy planet, and I believe we have to do our part in driving both.”

Since joining the company in 2015, Cheng has been instrumental in making AstraZeneca a leader in sustainability in the pharma industry, becoming one of the first seven global companies to have its greenhouse-gas emission targets verified by the Science-Based Target Initiative, whose ultimate goal is achieving net-zero emissions for corporations. As part of that effort, she oversees the ambitious $1 billion Ambition Zero Carbon program that the company launched in 2020. So far, AstraZeneca has reduced its greenhouse-gas emissions by 68%, with the goal of reaching 98% and having a fully electric vehicle fleet by 2026. Cheng also recently switched one of the company’s major manufacturing plants, in Newark, Del., to biomethane, a renewable energy source made from food and farm waste. The company invested heavily in anaerobic digestion plants where bacteria that don’t need oxygen to survive turn the waste into energy, and plans to convert its other manufacturing plants in coming years. “It’s a perfect example of a circular economy, where everything gets reused and recycled and there is zero waste,” she says.

Correction, May 2

The original version of this story mischaracterized Cheng's role: she is not the first at AstraZeneca to hold the chief sustainability officer title. It also misstated the years of two company milestones: the Ambition Zero Carbon program was launched in 2020, not 2021; and its goal is to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 98% by 2026, not 2025. It also mischaracterized AstraZeneca's anaerobic digestion plants. The company uses them but did not build them.

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