How is Pharmaceutical manufacturing dealing with its environmental footprint?
“The health of our planet is directly linked to human health and prosperity.” – remarked the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed in her address to the UN General Assembly in 2022.
Beyond its impact on human health through its role researching, developing and making medicines, how is thus the Pharmaceutical industry dealing with its own environmental footprint?
The NGO Health Care Without Harm estimates the healthcare sector contribute between 4-5% of global greenhouse emissions. “[I]f it was a country, healthcare would be the fifth largest country in terms of greenhouse gas emissions”, it is stated on its website. Pharmaceutical products by themselves represent 20–33 percent of health sector emissions.
Pharma companies are actively engaged in reducing the environmental footprint of their operations.
The consultancy Oliver Wyman and the Climate Group co-authored the report “Getting Going”. They conducted interviews with climate leaders across industry sectors, including the Pharmaceutical sector, and across geographies, to help them identify some of the most challenging barriers to their respective next phase in their climate commitments.
The two barriers selected by a majority of responding leaders are 1) “Monitoring and Reducing Scope 3 (see box) emissions throughout the supply chain” and 2) “significant levels of upfront cost and difficulty in making a financial business case”. “Climate transition is not a sufficient priority amongst customers” was highlighted in third place by half as many respondents as the first two. This latter remark likely has a strong impact on the perceived difficulty in making the financial business case (barrier 2). Nevertheless, as the report summary highlights, there have been breakthroughs and success stories that can be built upon. One very positive aspect is the increasing number of Pharma companies reporting on ESG and showing the metrics for several important climate-impacting factors.
Adequate action to climate transition is a necessity, and definitely not an option for the Health Care industry.
Scope 1: emissions refer to direct emissions from sources owned or controlled by a company, such as manufacturing plants and sales force automotive fleets.
Scope 2: refers to indirect emissions from the generation of electricity, steam, heating and cooling bought by a company.
Scope 3: emissions refer to the indirect environmental footprint that comes from a company’s value chain. For drugmakers, those scope 3 emissions could stem from suppliers, distributors or manufacturers.
Examples of actions taken by Pharma manufacturers, towards improving their environmental footprint:
- In 2017, Amgen obtained regulatory validation of its next-generation biomanufacturing plant in Singapore for commercial production of biologic drug substance. “Compared with the manufacture of the same amount of product in a traditional facility, the plant has demonstrated a 73 percent reduction in energy consumption, 54 percent reduction in water use, and 69 percent reduction in carbon emissions.” (more here)
- Novo Nordisk has put ESG aspirations on the first page of its investor presentations, literally, with the goal of reaching zero environmental impact in 2025. Their report on the first 9 months of 2022, indicated a 18% reduction in carbon emissions, compared to same period in 2019. The company considers that it is on track to attain this goal.
- A small number of global Pharma companies are working on generating awareness about their ESG goals with their suppliers, with the aim of reducing their Scope 3 emissions.
Through a range of internal initiatives, Pharma manufacturers have been actively working to reduce their energy and water usage, which allows them to benefit from significant cost savings, as well as contributing to their reduction in environmental footprint.
Given that about 90% of their environmental footprint is Scope 3, the work with their suppliers and subcontractors to implement changes that lead to reductions is very relevant for the industry sustainability goals. It is nevertheless worth noting that the estimated scope 1 and 2 emissions in the pharmaceutical sectors is 55% more than the automotive sector, therefore, initiatives to reduce these emissions is also important.
At a recent industry expert panel organized by Fierce, the Novartis’ representative highlighted the importance of providing opportunities and removing barriers for suppliers to participate in the efforts to reduce the Pharma manufacturer supply chain footprint. Astra Zeneca has organized conferences with their suppliers, to introduce them to their Scope 3 goals and help suppliers improve their own environmental footprint.
Such collective broad stakeholder efforts can lead to important reduction outcomes across the supply chain. Schneider Electric and ten of the largest global pharmaceutical companies have launched the Energize program in 2021, dedicated to pharmaceutical suppliers, who may not have their own resources or expertise, to learn more about renewable energy adoption and contracting. Suppliers have the opportunity to participate in the market for power purchase agreements (PPAs). Pharmaceutical companies are using PPAs to buy renewable energy and to complement the use of on-site generation. This increases the percentage of renewable energy utilized, thus reducing emissions. It also guarantees supply, allows companies to reliably predict future costs and signals a long-term commitment to zero carbon. By extending PPA participation to suppliers, a company is also reducing its Scope 3 emissions.
Other than emissions, there is also the matter of waste. Manufacturing of medicines generates many types of waste. Initiatives to reduce and recycle some types of chemical waste, for example, solvents, which constitute a significant proportion of small molecule pharmaceutical waste, have been more or less successfully implemented over the years. Initiatives to introduce standardized tools to measure the impact of these initiatives have not abounded, but their need is being voiced more often.
Research, Development and Pharmaceutical manufacturing generates considerable amounts of plastic waste, which may be contaminated with biological or chemical waste. In the Biomarket Insights Report from January 2020 “Standardisation and Certification Developments in the Bioeconomy” we wrote about prospects for plastic recycling in Pharma. At that time, there were very limited examples of companies involved with Pharma manufacturing, communicating publicly about their efforts to recycle plastics. The industry sector has progressed since then in identifying opportunities for reducing and/or recycling plastics, and in implementing design solutions that offer better circularity (i.e., opportunities for re-use) and an easier path to recycling.
MerckMillipore estimated biopharma generates 30000 tons of single-use products disposed to land-fill or incineration, per year. Most of this (oil-derived) plastic waste cannot be re-used. On the other hand, use of single-use bioreactors for bioproduction comes with significant reduction in water and energy use. While latter is of benefit for the corporation, reducing water usage is of global benefit. And so would be the reduction in land-fill waste.
Given the strict requirements for laboratory plastics, it has also been difficult to identify renewable sources for laboratory plastics with the required performance, in particular in what concerns leachables and extractables. Some suppliers of plasticware for laboratory use are launching products made from plastic derived from renewable bio-based feedstock (Eppendorf is using plastic made from recycled e.g. from food oil wastes and residues plus 10% fossil-based feedstock). These have been recent launches and it has not yet been possible to see their impact on the overall plastic waste disposal for the industry.
MerckMillipore is providing detailed guidance to their customers about the nature of the plastics in their single-use products, how to segregate the waste (e.g., contaminated from non-contaminated parts, and detailed information the various types of plastic used) and how best to recycle or dispose of it. The company launched in 2017 the Biopharma Recycling Program, in partnership with a plastics recycling company, to recycle to plastic lumber, pallets, parking stops, speed bumps. This initiative was planned to recycle 5500 tons of plastic waste in 2020, though it is not clear from the company’s public information if this program is still running. Like others MerckMillipore is working to reduce its energy footprint. In St. Louis, Missouri (USA) the company employs waste-to-energy recovery for waste instead of landfilling it, which has an 89% lower CO2 emission rate.
We will stop here with some wise words from Jim Weidner, Amgen (Fierce)