Yesterday, Swedish television channel TV4 highlighted a recent publication by myself, Lina Gunnarsson and Joakim Larsson, in which we show that the price of pharmaceuticals is linked to the environmental standards of production countries. Surprisingly, however, this link seems to be mostly driven by whether the product is generic or original (branded), which in turns affect the prices.

In the study (1), published in Journal of Cleaner Production, we have used an exclusive set of Swedish sales data for pharmaceuticals combined with data on the origin of the active ingredients, obtained under an agreement to not identify individual manufacturers or products. We used this data to determine if price pressure and generic substitution could be linked to the general environmental performance and the corruption levels of the production countries, as measured by the Environmental Performance Index (2) and the Corruption Perception Index (3). In line with what we believed, India was the largest producer of generics, while Europe and the USA dominated the market for branded products (1). Importantly, we found that the price and environmental performance index of the production countries were linked, but that this relationship was largely explained by whether the product was original or generic.

To some extent, this relationship would allow buyers to select products that likely originate from countries that, in general terms, have better pollution control, which was also highlighted in the news clip that TV4 produced. However, what was lacking from that clip was the fact that this approach lacks resolution, because it does not say anything about the environmental footprint of individual products. We therefore conclude that to better allow consumers, hospitals and pharmacies to influence the environmental impact of their product choices, there is need for regulation and, importantly, transparency in the production chain, as has also been pointed out earlier (4,5). To this end, emissions from manufacturing need to be measured, allowing for control and follow-up on industry commitments towards sustainable manufacturing of pharmaceuticals (6). Since the discharges from pharmaceutical manufacturing not only leads to consequences to the local environment (7,8), but also in the case of antibiotics has potentially global consequences in terms of increasing risks for resistance development (9), limiting discharges is an urgent need to avoid a looming antibiotic resistance crisis (10).

The paper was also highlighted by the Centre for Antibiotic Resistance Research, and can be read here or here.


  1. Bengtsson-Palme J, Gunnarsson L, Larsson DGJ: Can branding and price of pharmaceuticals guide informed choices towards improved pollution control during manufacturing? Journal of Cleaner Production, 171, 137–146 (2018). doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.09.247
  2. Hsu A, Alexandre N, Cohen S, Jao P, Khusainova E: 2016 Environmental Performance Index. Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA (2016).
  3. Transparency International: Corruption Perceptions Index 2014. Transparency International, Berlin, Germany (2014).
  4. Larsson DGJ, Fick J: Transparency throughout the production chain–a way to reduce pollution from the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals? Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 53, 161–163 (2009). doi:10.1016/j.yrtph.2009.01.008
  5. Ågerstrand M, Berg C, Björlenius B, Breitholtz M, Brunström B, Fick J, Gunnarsson L, Larsson DGJ, Sumpter JP, Tysklind M, Rudén C: Improving environmental risk assessment of human pharmaceuticals. Environmental Science & Technology, 49, 5336–5345 (2015). doi:10.1021/acs.est.5b00302
  6. Industry Roadmap for Progress on Combating Antimicrobial Resistance: Industry Roadmap for Progress on Combating Antimicrobial Resistance – September 2016. (2016).
  7. Larsson DGJ, de Pedro C, Paxeus N: Effluent from drug manufactures contains extremely high levels of pharmaceuticals. Journal of Hazardous Materials, 148, 751–755 (2007). doi:10.1016/j.jhazmat.2007.07.008
  8. aus der Beek T, Weber FA, Bergmann A, Hickmann S, Ebert I, Hein A, Küster A: Pharmaceuticals in the environment–Global occurrences and perspectives. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 35, 823–835 (2016). doi:10.1002/etc.3339
  9. Bengtsson-Palme J, Larsson DGJ: Concentrations of antibiotics predicted to select for resistant bacteria: Proposed limits for environmental regulation. Environment International, 86, 140–149 (2016). doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2015.10.015
  10. Bengtsson-Palme J, Larsson DGJ: Time to limit antibiotic pollution. The Medicine Maker, 0416, 302, 17–18 (2016). [Paper link]