Exclusive: Novo Nordisk’s green chief on pharmas road to net zero
Net Zero Investor caught up with Bennet Strang, sustainability director at global pharma giant Novo Nordisk
Practically every corporate is facing the same issue: how to get to net zero without damaging growth or sacrificing profits.
How to roll out a sustainable investment strategy that continues to attract fresh investment while meeting shareholders' green demands at the same time? It's the same question in many industries: the pharmaceutical space is no exception.
Time for Net Zero Investor to catch up with Bennet Strang, the associate director for sustainability insights at Novo Nordisk, a pharmaceutical giant that was founded in Denmark exactly 100 years ago this year and these days employs more than 50,000 people around the world.
Strang sees there is currently a healthy appetite for more net zero policies while corporates undertake their own initiatives, such as impact investing and the implementation of tailored green policies.
Asset owners increasingly scream for more detailed net zero data, so they can understand and monitor sustainability efforts better. Do you recognise that trend?
Absolutely, we recognize and welcome the ever-increasing trend for more high-quality data. Future EU ESG reporting rules will have a key role to play here as well. At Novo Nordisk, we aspire to be among the leaders in the field of ESG-data in our industry. To this effect, we have created the Novo Nordisk ESG Portal, which is a key ESG reporting outlet together with our Annual Report of course.
Many asset owners, particularly pension funds in your country, push for impact investment principles to be an integral part of any mature investment strategy. How much attention would you say Novo Nordisk and the industry pay to this?
We were part of a stakeholder coalition that worked on the first social impact bond in health in Denmark issued by the city of Aarhus in 2022. The objective of this financing instrument was to deliver an intensive prevention programme to 450 citizens living with type 2 diabetes and at high risk of developing severe complications.”
Earlier this year the boss of Aviva Investors has warned companies not to sacrifice long-term sustainability goals in response to near-term challenges posed by energy shocks, supply chain disruption, elevated inflation and the risk of recession. Do you share that sentiment?
There is no doubt that there are many risks and challenges in doing business in this day and age. But Novo Nordisk has a long-standing history of aspiring to be a sustainable company, so on the contrary, we believe that being a sustainable business is the only way to prosper as a company. Actually, Novo Nordisk launched its first climate targets almost 20 years ago, in 2004.
Overall, we strive to be a sustainable business, creating value for society and for our future business. We do business according to the triple bottom line, which is also anchored in our Articles of Association, in a financially, environmentally and socially responsible manner.
Also, he said the industry's focus should be on the transition to a low-carbon economy and reversing nature loss. Are those key priorities for Novo Nordisk too?
In 2020, we achieved our goal of sourcing 100% renewable electricity across our global production. The next step is to transform our business processes to eliminate the environmental footprint from our operations. By 2030, our ambition is to have zero CO2 from our operations and transport. Ultimately, we aim to reach our target of net-zero emissions by 2045. Biodiversity is a theme that is evolving in society and similarly, and it is moving up on our agenda. We recognize the growing importance of biodiversity.
If we zoom out for a second, what would you say is the biggest ESG challenge currently for Novo Nordisk at the moment?
There are inherent challenges in reducing emissions at a time when demand for our life-changing medicines is growing rapidly, resulting in increased manufacturing and more product shipments. Hence, the challenge is that we are helping more and more people living with serious chronic conditions every day, while we are determined to bring down our emissions in total. Every year. Every quarter. With the ambition of reaching net zero by 2045.