Environmental Sustainability in Business: A Case Study of Prioritizations and the Absence of a Plastic-focus in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Lene Mandal & Klara Kubiak

Student thesis: Master thesis


Given the centrality of business in modern society and the increasing urgency of environmental problems, it is of paramount importance to increase our understanding of what motivates and demotivates sustainability efforts in businesses. By investigating environmental sustainability efforts in the pharmaceutical industry in Europe this thesis contributes to increasing that understanding. In particular, it examines why plastic, despite being at the top of the sustainability agenda today, is not a strategic focus area in the pharmaceutical industry’s environmental sustainability efforts. This is done by conducting an exploratory analysis of the rationales in the industry behind focusing on some sustainability areas and not others. The research is conducted at industry-level and is designed as an embedded case study, in which pharmaceutical companies constitute the subunits of analysis, and the primary source of data is qualitative interviews with sustainability representatives from eight pharmaceutical companies. The result is an identification of seven factors influential for sustainability prioritizations within this industry, which all speak against a strategic prioritization of plastic as a sustainability theme. On a broader level, the findings indicate that some industries might be less competitively motivated to make sustainability efforts than the literature suggests. The implication of this, it is argued, is that there is seemingly still some way to go before business naturally takes the lead in the transitioning towards a sustainable and circular society.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2019
Number of pages114
SupervisorsJasper J. Hotho