With the growing worry surrounding climate change, industries of all shapes and sizes are taking a hard look at their processes and finding ways to reduce their carbon footprint.
The pharma industry isn’t exempt; in fact, it emits more greenhouse gases than the automotive industry.
While the pharma industry focuses on creating medicine for humans, it previously overlooked its massive effect on our planet. Not anymore. The decision to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is no longer just an idea for the future and is now more of a necessity.
Companies who increase their environmental efforts will not only benefit from the obvious, saving our planet, but from avoiding fines and taxes associated with uncontrolled CO2 emissions. They may also be able to find new areas for improvement and efficiency.
How can pharma companies reduce their carbon footprint? Because the pharma industry is vast and has many niches, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. However, some practices can reduce the carbon footprint of any pharma company that implements them.
1. Embracing Pharma 4.0
Many companies have started embracing Pharma 4.0. A huge part of taking on the Pharma 4.0 model is installing new technology or updating current equipment. And while the main focus of Pharma 4.0 isn’t to reduce carbon footprints, it certainly has the potential to do so.
Introducing new, modern IT systems across the entire product lifecycle creates many opportunities for companies to reduce carbon emissions.
For example, increased connectivity could mean a piece of equipment has predictive maintenance abilities, meaning repairs would only occur when necessary, cutting down on nonessential travel by service technicians.
Popular Pharma 4.0 tech, such as digital twins, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR), also offers exciting sustainability and operational efficiency opportunities.
A digital twin is a complete copy of either a company’s facility or online system. An organization can use their digital twin for a “bird’s eye view” into their systems or facility to better anticipate needs and avoid adverse environmental situations.
AR and VR allow companies to conduct virtual site walk-throughs, vendor audits, and factory site acceptance tests (FAT). When a company can accomplish these tasks virtually, they don’t need to send an entire team on a trip, effectively reducing their carbon footprint.
Other Pharma 4.0 tools, such as Process Analytical Technology (PAT) and real-time data processing, give companies a more in-depth view into organizational processes and their supply chain to make more informed decisions regarding sustainability.
2. Moving from Batch to Continuous Processing
The manufacturing process is an area of the product lifecycle that, if improved, has the potential to make a significant dent in companies’ carbon footprints.
While tried and true, batch processing is highly labor-intensive, time-consuming, and usually not environmentally friendly. Those looking to reduce emissions may want to consider continuous processing. Essentially, continuous processing combines all the aspects of batch processing and creates a continuous line of production.
The adoption of continuous processing for emissions reduction has shown great promise. For example, in 2019, when Sanofi opened a new facility that exclusively leveraged continuous processing, they produced 80% less carbon dioxide emissions than their first-generation facility.
3. Rethinking Transportation
The distribution of goods is ripe for significant carbon emissions due to the large amount of energy used during the process.
One McKinsey report found that a typical consumer company’s supply chain creates more environmental costs than its operations, accounting for more than 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. While this phenomenon is not exclusive to the pharma industry, there are transportation practices commonly used by pharma companies that are known carbon creators.
With cold chain shipping, for example, maintaining a certain temperature within a vehicle adds more energy usage to the already energy-inefficient process of transporting goods a long distance.
One solution to consider is producing products closer to where they’ll distributed. This type of localized manufacturing leads to a smaller amount of energy used in the transportation process and thus, reduces a carbon footprint.
Another avenue to explore is an investment in more eco-friendly fuel sources for vehicles and the refrigeration systems required within the transportation vehicles needed for proper cold chain shipping.