We all know it. We all sit on a small piece of the puzzle to overcome the climate and environmental challenges we face. All of us - companies, politicians and consumers – must change our actions and consumption patterns. Yet it is easy to be overwhelmed and perhaps feel a little paralyzed by the task at hand. Where do I start?

In Novo Nordisk the same question was asked – and it has now been answered. We start with what we can impact here and now. On an annual basis, Novo Nordisk's CO2 emissions total almost 270,000 tons. Every year, millions of our plastic insulin pens are thrown away upon use and end up in landfills. With Novo Nordisk offices, factories and research sites in 80 countries, and patients in 170 countries, we are truly a global company with an equivalent global consumption: from raw materials to office furniture and CO2 emissions from transportation.

This we can change. In our Circular for Zero ambition we are aiming for zero CO2 emissions from all operations and transportation by 2030, with an overall ambition to completely eliminate our negative footprint on the environment in the future. One way is to ensure that our products can be reused or recycled, and we already now work with our many suppliers to be sustainable.

By committing to renewable energy, businesses can make a big dent in global emissions
By committing to renewable energy, businesses can make a big dent in global emissions
Image: The Climate Group/RE100

Of course, our ambition to be a sustainable business has many unknown factors: technology, customers, suppliers, costs and quality. Truly challenging our environmental footprint requires new and unknown solutions and partnerships.

One of our first decisions to reduce our environmental impact was taken in 2006, when we committed to reducing our emissions of CO2 by 10% between the years 2004-2014. This reduction aim was to go hand-in-hand with growing and expanding our business.

We found part of the solution in collaboration with Ørsted, a Danish energy company. (formerly known as Dong Energy). Ørsted was to build a major wind farm in the North Sea between Denmark and the UK. Under this agreement, Ørsted committed to advising Novo Nordisk on energy savings, while in turn we committed to purchase one-third of the wind farm's power output. This meant that Novo Nordisk could power its business in Denmark solely with sustainable energy. The price was higher than for carbon-based power, but the solution was innovative and presented advantages to both companies.

The agreement also made very good business sense, and we reached our target in 2010. At a time when both our production output and employee numbers were rising steeply, we managed to cut our CO2 emissions by more than 10% - something that had seemed unattainable just a few years before. At the same time, the company also cut down on power consumption in day-to-day operations, with a positive effect on Novo Nordisk's financial bottom line.

In 2015, we decided that our entire global production should be powered by renewable electricity by 2020 and signed up for the RE100. Today, our production in Brazil runs on hydroelectric power, in China and Europe we use wind energy, and in North Carolina, USA, we recently signed a deal on a major solar power plant to supply our production there.

In 2030, we will have eliminated CO2 emissions from our global operations and transportation. Yet with Novo Nordisk products and employees all over the world, we sometimes need to be airborne to ensure effective transportation from production to patient.

What are the best ways to address these issues? We don’t have the full solution yet. Emissions-free air traffic is still in its nascent developmental stage, so at present we can reduce our environmental impact from transportation by, for example, reducing our air travel and utilizing video conferencing more. A small step in the right direction while we search for the right solution in collaboration with others.

The world has never faced as many challenges as it does today. Population growth and ever-increasing consumption are exacerbating these issues. The green transformation must be achieved by the general public, politicians and businesses collectively. Together we can foster new sustainable technologies and partnerships to meet these challenges and in turn create new enterprises, growth, prosperity and workplaces.

The UN Secretary General has called on nations and private actors to increase their environmental ambitions and foster innovative partnerships to realize these. A search for such partnerships is the main driver for Novo Nordisk’s presence at the UN Climate Action Summit and the many esteemed side events, such as World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact Summit.

This is why we are heavily engaged in the World Economic Forum’s Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy and the Alliance of CEO Climate leaders. Further, we are pleased to announce that we have joined Climate Group’s EV100 initiative for advancing electrical vehicles in our company fleet as well as the UN Global Compact’s Business Ambition to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5˚C. Only by learning and sharing with other environmental pioneers can we truly advance the environmental agenda on a global scale.

Our environmental ambitions may seem bold today. As we work to realize them we hope that they in time might be deemed the norm.