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Striving to Be Sustainable: How Can Pharma Manufacturing Go Green?

In the dynamic landscape of pharmaceutical manufacturing, striving for sustainable practices has transitioned from a choice to an imperative. The pharma industry significantly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, primarily due to energy-intensive manufacturing processes and global supply chains. With universal sustainability goals influencing the decision-making of several industries, pharmaceutical companies are navigating complex challenges to align their operations with environmentally responsible practices and regulations. This path towards sustainability, however, is strewn with many obstacles.

In this article, Dr Julian Northen, Solid State Manager at Onyx Scientific, explores the challenges associated with achieving sustainability in pharma and the solutions the industry must adopt to ensure alignment with global goals and regulations.

The Drive for Sustainable Pharma

The pharmaceutical industry is prioritising a shift towards a net-zero carbon footprint by embracing sustainable practices across drug development and manufacturing. This commitment involves investing in green technologies, reducing energy consumption, and minimising waste to lower environmental impact. Beyond creating life-changing medicines, there is a rising demand for pharmaceutical manufacturers to bear a “sustainability stamp,” signifying a dedication to eco-conscious practices from material sourcing to disposal. As the pharma industry generates a significant amount of harmful waste, greener options must be identified.

Contract development and manufacturing organisations (CDMOs) have an essential role in this shift, serving as crucial partners in the pharmaceutical supply chain. Collaborating with CDMOs enables the integration of green initiatives, responsible sourcing and sustainable manufacturing processes, facilitating the industry’s transition towards environmental responsibility.

Challenges on the Road to a Greener Pharma

As sustainability becomes an important consideration within the pharmaceutical sector, it presents several challenges for drug manufacturers. Firstly, sourcing sustainable raw materials, including active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and excipients, proves challenging due to intricate supply chains involving multiple suppliers, some lacking sustainable practices. Transportation of these materials further compounds the issue with its energy-intensive nature and carbon footprint, as finding eco-friendly shipping options remains elusive and costly.

In addition, ensuring supply chain transparency requires meticulous tracing of material origins and monitoring of environmental impacts during transportation. Given the global reach of many supply chains, achieving this level of transparency is complex.

Addressing waste reduction in drug manufacturing demands significant process alterations and investments, often met with resistance from stakeholders due to the balance needed between economic considerations and sustainability goals. Mitigating the energy consumption inherent in drug development and manufacturing presents a further challenge, particularly for older facilities unprepared for transitioning to renewable energy sources. The initial high costs associated with these changes can affect product pricing and competitiveness.

Aligning with regulatory requirements for drug manufacturing while integrating sustainable practices adds another layer of complexity. Navigating the regulatory landscape requires meticulous adherence to sustainability standards without compromising on drug safety and efficacy, proving time-consuming and demanding for manufacturers.

Furthermore, contemplating sustainability initiatives may result in extended timelines for drug launches, prompting deliberation on the trade-offs between greener processes and quicker, albeit less eco-conscious alternatives. Overcoming these challenges is essential for meeting sustainability goals.

Sustainability Strategies for Pharma’s Green Evolution

Many companies now demand that their suppliers adopt or develop sustainability policies. CDMOs often function both as suppliers and customers and play a pivotal role in implementing these policies across complex logistics supply chains.

Small steps lead to significant change. Implementing sustainable practices incrementally can create immediate and lasting impacts on a company’s carbon footprint; this is particularly beneficial for smaller pharma entities and CDMOs with limited resources. Strategies to consider include:

  • Strategic partnerships and supply chain efficiency

Collaboration between CDMOs and pharma companies is key as it leads to responsible sourcing, waste reduction and energy-efficient manufacturing. This can be achieved by optimising the supply chain and production processes.

  • Process optimisation and systems engineering (PSE) tools

Employing PSE tools allows meticulous analysis, optimisation and control over various manufacturing aspects, ensuring minimal waste, reduced consumption and improved energy efficiency. Process optimisation has always been at the core of chemical development, maximising yield and throughput. Combined with the implementation of green solvents and reagents, sustainability is implemented from the beginning.

  • Sourcing sustainable raw materials

Sourcing more sustainable transportation options while identifying and procuring sustainable sources of raw materials, including APIs and excipients, can reduce the company’s carbon footprint.

  • Global and local sustainability

Balancing global sustainability objectives with localised efforts is crucial to aligning goals and helping guide decision-making. Targeting medical needs in economically developing areas while maintaining sustainable production practices is a key consideration.

  • The need for regulatory control

Without suitably planned and executed regulation within the industry, progress may seem slow due to the extra cost burden imposed by the incorporation of sustainable practice. This is not limited simply to the cost of changes in infrastructure. There is also a consideration of time penalties associated with an extended timeline to market and the patentable lifespan of a new therapeutic agent. Without suitable regulation, the concern is that these issues may take precedence, and accepted practice will vary between different organisations.

  • Organisational commitment

Establishing committees and short-term goals fosters a commitment to sustainability across the company. Enhancing logistics, reducing individual carbon footprints and promoting infrastructural improvements align with broader sustainability objectives.

  • Investment in human resources

Empowering employees through sustainability training creates awareness and encourages informed decision-making. Creating a workplace culture that values sustainability drives long-term practices and enhances the company’s reputation as a socially responsible entity.

The Essential Pursuit of Sustainable Pharma Practices

Among supply chain complexities and regulatory pressures, the pharmaceutical industry is becoming increasingly aware of the strategic necessity of sustainability integration. Recognising the alignment of sustainable operations with societal expectations, companies are investing in partnerships and practices that promise benefits sooner. As the industry moves towards green practices, sustainability remains the foundation on which the future of pharmaceutical manufacturing stands poised to thrive.


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