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A Prognosis of Sustainability in the Pharmaceutical Industry

The pharmaceutical sector is a key player in the race for a more sustainable future, and pharmaceutical companies are endeavouring to reduce their carbon footprint, eliminate pollution, conserve water, and use sustainable components. Suppliers and partners for drug delivery products are also working hard to ensure the entire supply chain improves its environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards. ESG credentials are becoming essential to pharmaceutical tenders at every step of the supply chain. Pharmaceutical companies want to demonstrate action, and not just ambition, in moves toward greater sustainability, to customers, policymakers, and healthcare system, stakeholders.

As a key delivery device partner for pharma companies, Owen Mumford Pharmaceutical Services has reviewed the current state of play on ESG compliance in the pharmaceutical industry among the top 25 companies reporting ESG scores. This article will underline the achievements made to date as well as key areas for improvement.

Outlining Targets

To really understand the progress of the pharmaceutical industry in its drive toward sustainability, it is valuable to begin by identifying what success would look like. Reports frequently focus on the same four main goals for achieving sustainability:

  1. Reducing carbon emissions by improving energy use and setting net-zero targets.
  2. Improving water sustainability by reducing manufacturing consumption and eliminating pharmaceutical waste from the water system.
  3. Improving waste management by cutting down on excess packaging and more effectively recovering and disposing of used products.
  4. Becoming more sustainable by design, through green chemistry initiatives, chemical recovery, and creating reusable delivery devices. The analysis focuses on ESG targets specific to the pharmaceutical sector and its suppliers. Additionally, the report not only focuses on where ESG policies have been put in place but also on where corporations have publicly set themselves concrete targets.

Areas of Progress

The pharmaceutical industry has begun to make significant strides towards a more sustainable future, with the October 2021 Climate Reporting Performance report from Ecoact featuring three biopharmaceutical giants in the global top twenty companies for sustainability.1 As an industry, biopharma performed considerably better than many other industries in each of the key categories, which included ambition and targets, governance, and achievement. We can see important improvements in four areas in particular. With regard to energy, water, waste, and air emissions there have been valuable steps taken across the industry. Air emissions are the area where pharma companies are most focused on pursuing targets. Close to 70% of pharma companies have specific targets for lowering air emissions, focusing both on reducing carbon emissions and gaseous pollutants. Typical pollutants to be filtered are acid gases, dust and aerosols, pharmaceutical ‘actives’, and volatile organic compounds which can all cause harmful damage to the environment. Secondly, the energy-intensive sector has made steps to reduce usage. Most energy policies focus on a combination of renewable energy sources, self-generation and increasing energy efficiency by reducing energy requirements in the manufacturing process.2 Reducing energy use in the manufacturing process can be either production line or industrial building focused – in both cases, savings of 25% are typical and are often much higher.3 Next, moves to improve water usage not only focus on reducing consumption but also on cleaning and reprocessing water – either for reuse or put back into the water grid. One international giant aims to achieve 100% water neutrality by 2025, meaning all wastewater will be recycled, reused and captured from rainwater. Our review shows that around 50% of pharma companies have already set hard targets in this category. Lastly, progress on waste is trending in the right direction with goals being set by a large number of companies. Over a quarter of pharmaceutical companies have already set targets to reduce their waste emissions by at least 25%. Companies are trying to avoid reliance on landfills for waste disposal, while others pursue a zero-waste approach. Moreover, commercial incentives may become a factor as waste becomes more expensive to dispose of.4