A reflection on the industry's effort to foster and facilitate sustainability
Thankfully avoiding pandemic-related postponements and cancellations—as well as any ill-timed personal flare-ups of COVID itself—I was very glad to make it to LogiPharma 2022 in Nice, France in April. (Manchester Airport’s apparent surprise at the very presence of travelers notwithstanding.) Armed with my NHS vaccine passport app, my signed déclaration sur l’honneur stating I was COVID-free, a printout of my travel insurance documents, and no discernible trace of a dry cough, I arrived at Nice airport… only to be greeted by no checks whatsoever. Getting into LogiPharma itself actually proved trickier, but after one hour of asking to see everyone’s vaccine records on the morning of the first day, the COVID police promptly disappeared from the event, never to be seen again.
Once ensconced inside the Palais dès Congres Acropolis, well… what a difference to the ascetic inertia of the last two years. LogiPharma was bustling with attendees, speakers, and exhibitors, all enthused by the chance to reunite or make contact, or simply be physically present in the face of the conversations and the presentations. There were no masks in sight and people were gleefully shaking hands like the plague had never existed. Like others, I’m sure, I paid for this after the event with a miserable four-day cold, but I wouldn’t say it wasn’t worth it. Just under 1,000 people were in attendance, and all the major pharma companies were represented. Of course, COVID-19 was a dominant subject across the conference sessions, and early reactions to the situation in Ukraine were very much on the radar. But also prominent as a consistent and stimulating theme was that of sustainability.
There is a tendency among some companies and individuals to be fashionably supportive of the idea of sustainability without instigating any meaningful action around it. This posturing has sometimes made me cynical, perhaps to the extent of not taking some of the arguments seriously enough. I put the recycling out like everyone else, but I’ve never been overly sympathetic, say, to extreme cases of eco-activism. But, from the presentations given by some of the LogiPharma speakers, one of the issues that is patently hard to ignore is the problem of waste in the pharma industry.
Ruud van der Geer, head of cold chain EMEA at Merck (known as MSD in Europe), pointed out that only 50% of all the volume that his company ships around the globe actually ends up “in patients.” And of all the material that pharma wastes, around 50% of that is in the form of single-use materials. Think also about all the package inserts that go into each and every box of medication; these millions of sheets of paper, expertly folded as they may be, are routinely ignored and often thrown away without being recycled. And this is all before we get to the problem of CO2 emissions.
Of course, these eco-revelations aren’t new. But, as Marrie Groeneveld of SkyCell asserted, more people are listening these days. She explained, “Twenty years ago, people didn’t care so much… Now we’ve reached a sense of urgency.” Certainly, in the face of the mountains of waste, we can see there is a need to double down on these issues, not just for the sake of the environment, but also for the general health of the industry, now and in the future.
Fortunately, Pharma Commerce is well placed to explore and report on the efforts of individual companies and the wider industry to foster and facilitate a true era of sustainability. So, watch this space!
Julian Update is Pharmaceutical Commerce's Editorial Director. He can be reached at [email protected].