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How setting action-based goals and cultivating partnerships will help overcome challenges associated with implementing a sustainable GHG strategy.
Emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) are not only a key cause of climate change—they also pose a major public health risk, affecting people across the globe, no matter their socio-environmental background. This means companies in the biopharmaceutical sector and their contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) partners must now take the initiative to limit their GHG output.1
Healthcare emissions alone contribute some 5% of total global GHGs entering the atmosphere, with the bulk of the sector’s carbon footprint coming from manufacturing, raw material, and logistics. Supply chains remain the largest driver of emissions within the pharmaceutical sector, making up more than half of its emissions.2
Companies in the healthcare industry need to consider identifying new approaches to address the sector’s emissions, searching for opportunities to minimize their carbon footprint within individual facilities and across the overall supply network.
Pharma’s net-zero transition challenge
The drive to achieve net zero within the pharmaceutical sector is complex, requiring new thinking across the industry. Some key questions should be answered to ensure significant progress toward achieving the industry’s ambitious GHG emissions reduction goals:
How can we reconcile strict regulatory compliance needs with sustainability targets?
Like the rest of the pharmaceutical space, the biopharmaceutical industry is subject to stringent regulatory requirements. Any changes to the way a drug product is manufactured to reduce its direct and indirect emissions could potentially impact the effectiveness and quality of the finished dose. As such, the manufacturing process would require validation testing to ensure the changes don’t affect the drug’s efficacy and safety.
Our supply chain is complex—how can we understand and address its environmental impact?
Many biopharmaceutical companies may have intricate global supply needs. This means that they often have limited access to and influence over every link in the value chain, impacting their ability to control and reduce GHG emissions across the supply ecosystem. Network complexities can also make it more challenging to calculate the emission factor of raw materials, and can be further complicated when there is no available data regarding a material's GHG emissions. Taking this into account, all contributors at each stage of supply need to work together to successfully reduce emissions.
How expensive will it be to transition to more sustainable alternatives?
Introducing systems with the intent of reducing carbon emissions can have high initial associated costs. This often results in many companies buying carbon offsets, such as credits, or paying carbon taxes. However, with the rising costs of carbon, this approach is not sustainable in the long term.
How can I source the sustainable alternatives I need in all of the geographies I operate in?
Sustainable systems are not always available in every geography. For instance, there is limited access to renewable electricity in the Asia Pacific region, which presents significant challenges for global companies and their decarbonization efforts.2 Companies need to consider different approaches to reducing emissions for each geography that take into account the opportunities and constraints of the energy and supply chain infrastructure within that region.
These are certainly difficult questions to answer, but the biopharma industry needs to do so to transform its operations and increase production sustainability. A key benefit of taking action now is to increase long-term efficiency and reduce costs in the future.
Identifying sustainable alternative approaches
One way that the healthcare industry is responding to implement more sustainable solutions is through the health systems task force. This was established as part of the Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI) launched by His Majesty King Charles III at the World Economic Forum in 2020. Made up of industry and healthcare leaders, this initiative has the goal of accelerating the industry’s transition to net zero.
The public-private task force has published several works outlining actions that can be taken by stakeholders across the healthcare ecosystem to support the sector in achieving net-zero emissions.
These actions include collaboration across the value chain to implement new systems designed to decarbonize the pharmaceutical supply chain. These systems include renewable energy, clean heat, and green logistics.2,3
Another area where improvements can be made according to the task force is the patient care pathway. Reducing emissions across patient care can lower the rate of disease progression by helping to limit patients’ exposure to toxic air pollution, ultimately improving outcomes for patients.3,4
Leveraging digital transformation across the biopharma industry is also flagged as an important means to support and accelerate progress to net-zero transitions.3,5 Harnessing digital connectivity solutions can enable seamless flows of information within sites, between facilities and between partners, allowing organizations to better identify where emissions are originating from. It can also allow the sharing of best practices to minimize waste and energy consumption.
Given that most of the healthcare sector’s GHG emissions come from the supply chain, it must be a priority for all supply partners to work together to reduce them. Collaboration is key to implementing effective change throughout the raw material extraction process, product synthesis, packaging, and transport to hit decarbonization targets. Coupled with quantified emissions per raw material, actions can be taken to reduce the product's carbon footprint across the life cycle. Easy and free communication between stakeholders combined with the actions of individual contributors is also identified as crucial. This can increase manufacturing efficiency, renewable energy, clean transport, and energy-efficient facilities drive supply chain sustainability.2,4,5
New technologies are helping to enhance the overall energy efficiency of manufacturing operations while reducing production costs, enabling companies to strive for net zero as well as tackle economic hurdles hindering sustainability.
Through the initiative with suppliers and GHG guideline institutions, emission factors for certain ingredients from the raw materials have to be identified to calculate and reduce the actual carbon footprint. As well as optimizing manufacturing processes, the transition to 100% renewable energy must be done through other means to address validation challenges in pharmaceutical and biologics manufacturing. Power purchase agreements, renewable energy certificates and transport vehicles can all help individual companies in the supply chain achieve decarbonization goals and reduce emissions of GHGs.
A sustainable healthcare industry is possible
If the sector truly wants to minimize GHG emissions and create a more sustainable future, then collaboration and partnership will be crucial.
Working together in this way, the industry can set effective sustainability goals, identify specific actions, set time frames and address barriers to achieving them. Reporting on progress annually can also create vital accountability across the sector, helping to reinforce the transition to sustainable healthcare.
1. The Greenhouse Effect and our Planet. Retrieved June 21, 2023, from https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/greenhouse-effect-our-planet/
2. Sustainable Markets Initiative Health Systems Task Force, “Decarbonizing healthcare supply chains: Recommendations on how to drive emissions reductions across healthcare supply chains.” Retrieved June 21, 2023, from https://a.storyblok.com/f/109506/x/c8d17852a1/smi-hstf-supply-chains-whitepaper.pdf
3. Health Systems Taskforce. Retrieved June 21, 2023, from https://www.sustainable-markets.org/taskforces/health-systems-taskforce/
4. Sustainable Markets Initiative Health Systems Task Force, “Decarbonizing patient pathways: How choices in patient care can drive reductions in carbon emissions.” Retrieved June 21, 2023, from https://a.storyblok.com/f/109506/x/88fe7ea368/smi-hstf-pcp-whitepaper.pdf
5. Sustainable Markets Initiative Health Systems Task Force, “The digital solution for sustainability in clinical research.”Retrieved June 21, 2023, from https://a.storyblok.com/f/109506/x/42119be232/smi-hstf-digital-health-whitepaper.pdf
About the Author
Jimin Han is Director of Sustainability at Samsung Biologics.