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Moving Towards Sustainability in Clinical Research – a Call to Action  

The life sciences industry is becoming more focused on sustainability practices – a movement evident during the recent SCOPE summit. During my time at the event, I jumped at the opportunity to attend any session regarding advancing sustainability practices in clinical research. This is a subject of interest to me – not just from a personal perspective – but also from the lens of making a positive difference in my approach. 

SCOPE hosted several speaking sessions on reducing environmental impact in clinical trials, providing information about best sustainable practices. In one of the sessions, Jason Lanier, Environmental Sustainability Focus Area, Director, at Janssen Clinical Innovation, and David Lumby, Executive Director, EHS, at Thermo Fisher Scientific, shared their path towards sustainable clinical trials by identifying reduction strategies describing various hotspots of carbon emissions. They emphasized this is a collaborative effort to reduce the carbon footprint within clinical research. Jason Lanier later presented information regarding a clinical trial carbon calculator – a tool established to forecast the environmental impacts of trials. This tool will continue to be refined over time to improve usability and will become an open-access tool.  

On the last day of SCOPE, Michael Cohen, Senior Director of Environmental Sustainability, Strategy and Innovation, at Thermo Fisher Scientific, presented an overview of a pilot project that used self-driving, electric vehicles for patient clinical trial participants as a strategy to decarbonize patient travel and to also improve the patient experience.  

It was emphasized that there are additional strategic actions that can be taken to assist in moving the environmental impact closer to zero including site selection, recruitment, and the transport of patients. The goal is to continue to decrease the environmental impact and evaluate reductions in the short-term to have a long-term, positive impact.  

Following the summit, here are my reflections on new approaches to consider in your clinical trial design and operations to be part of the solution. 

Environmental Sustainability in Clinical Research: Approaches and Considerations 

As presented during one of the sessions at SCOPE, COVID-19 helped to propel and adapt processes that are more sustainable focused, but there is still more that can be achieved by the life sciences industry. Without sacrificing data quality or the patient experience, there are many aspects of clinical trials that have already become more environmentally friendly.  

Think about what you can do to be more efficient and to decrease the environmental impact of clinical trials. Here are a few approaches to bringing sustainability into clinical research.  

Meet the Patient Where They Are 

Transportation is one of the major contributors to global warming pollution. The average travel time for a patient to a clinical trial site is >2 hours.1 

Purchase Only What You Need 

Water is a Precious Resource That We Cannot Live Without 

Consider the Environmental Impact of Your Study Procedures 

It Has Been Reported That 20-30% of Established Research Sites Never Recruit a Patient1 

Stakeholders Can Serve as a Powerful Force for Change 

Raise Awareness 

In summary, global warming is directly impacted by increased greenhouse gas emissions. It produces devastating effects on our planet by accelerating climate change. 

Health Care Without Harm’s Health Care’s Climate Footprint green paper indicates the healthcare sector is a major contributor to the climate crisis –  “the greatest health threat of the 21st century – and therefore has an important role to play in resolving it.”2 The climate footprint from global healthcare is compared to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 514 coal-fired power plants.”2 Imagine this, as quoted from the green paper, “If the health sector were a country, it would be the fifth-largest emitter on the planet.”2 

The life sciences industry can contribute to fighting the environmental crisis by making sustainable choices in the work we do. Start by focusing on the key drivers of emissions within clinical research because we all need to work together to converge on this topic as a shared purpose. Small changes can make a big difference. 

To discuss your clinical development and operations, contact Halloran. We’re ready when you are. 


  1. Pharmaphorum. “How are clinical trials becoming more environmentally friendly?” June 21, 2023. 
  1. Health Care Without Harm Climate-smart health care series Green Paper Number One. “Health Care’s Climate Footprint: How the Health Sector Contributes to the Global Climate Crisis and Opportunities for Action.” September 2019.