The pharmaceutical industry’s growing emphasis on sustainability reflects the current trends. Although this sector lags behind others in terms of sustainability advancements, there is significant potential to enhance supply chain sustainability in the future.
The global pharmaceutical sector grapples with high energy and water consumption, along with an extensive research and development (R&D) footprint and global factory presence. These factors contribute to substantial pollution, with carbon emissions surpassing those of the automotive industry by 55%, despite the industry being 28% smaller in size. Recognizing the need for change, major pharmaceutical companies such as Johnson & Johnson, MSD, Sanofi, Pfizer, and GSK have committed to renewable energy targets within the next decade.
Although stringent quality control and regulation in the supply chain are essential, the industry lacks clear Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) regulations. Current guidelines from regulatory bodies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency do not include environmental standards in their Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) guidelines. To achieve a more sustainable future, the industry requires well-defined regulatory frameworks and transparent reporting of progress toward sustainability goals.
Despite its high carbon emissions, the pharmaceutical industry faces less external scrutiny compared to industries like oil and gas. There is currently no legislation mandating pharmaceutical companies to report environmental incidents. Achieving sustainability targets necessitates a comprehensive approach throughout the value chain, addressing raw materials for pharmaceutical ingredients, manufacturing processes, and distribution.
Manufacturing pharmaceutical products, while crucial, has a significant carbon footprint. Some companies are adopting continuous manufacturing to reduce their carbon impact. The complex global factory network demands substantial power, prompting the consideration of green power initiatives and solar energy utilization. Additionally, the distribution of medicines from factories to patients incurs environmental costs, especially for temperature-sensitive products. Companies are exploring alternatives to single-use plastics and working on sustainable packaging solutions.
Sustainable packaging is challenging due to strict regulations that ensure medication efficacy and quality. Striking a balance between recyclable and disposable materials is essential. Opportunities for sustainability improvements exist in planning operations, logistics, manufacturing, network design, and packaging. Investment in technology and green power initiatives will be critical for long-term progress. Although the focus on sustainability requires streamlining, positive steps have been taken by leading pharmaceutical players. In the future, the industry will likely face increased scrutiny from government bodies regarding ESG targets, driving collective efforts towards a sustainable future.