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How to make Pharma Industry more sustainable: Sustainability by design


The pharmaceutical industry has a responsibility to prioritize sustainability, but unfortunately, it has not always done so in the past. 

At present, sustainability is often viewed as a trendy buzzword, used by companies to improve their public image while ignoring the bigger picture. However, this approach is shortsighted and ultimately unsustainable.

True sustainability means taking a long-term approach that benefits both the health of populations and the environment. It requires a commitment to social, environmental, and civil responsibilities that extend far beyond maximizing profits in the short term.

Thankfully, many mature organizations have recognized the importance of sustainability and are actively working towards it.

Sustainability by design is also a key factor in achieving long-term sustainability in the pharmaceutical industry. By incorporating sustainability into every aspect of their operations, pharmaceutical companies can secure a healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous future for all.

But to achieve this vision, pharmaceutical companies must do more than simply pay lip service to sustainability. They must take concrete actions to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability in their entire product value chain.

Ultimately, pharma has the potential to be a leader in sustainability, setting an example for other industries to follow. By prioritizing sustainability and taking a long-term approach, the industry can create a brighter future for all.

Let’s delve deeper into the sustainability concept, sustainability by design, sustainability goals, the role of QMS, challenges, and best practices.


What is sustainability in Pharma?

Sustainability in pharma is about more than just adopting environmentally responsible practices. It encompasses the entire product lifecycle, from drug development to disposal, and aims to ensure that medicines are accessible, affordable, and sustainable for all populations.

The pharma industry has made significant strides in recent years towards reducing its environmental impact. From exploring renewable energy sources to investing in closed-loop manufacturing systems, companies are finding innovative ways to reduce waste and improve energy efficiency.

But sustainability is not just about reducing the industry's environmental footprint. It's also about increasing access to essential medicines for underserved populations. 

Millions of people die each year from treatable diseases, and pharma companies have a crucial role to play in developing and distributing affordable medicines to those who need them most.

At the same time, the pharma industry must also ensure its own long-term viability. This means investing in research and development to create new and innovative medicines, while also addressing the challenges of an aging population and increasing healthcare costs.

To achieve these goals, pharma companies must collaborate with stakeholders to build trust and transparency and demonstrate a commitment to ethical and responsible business practices.


How can sustainability goals be established?

Sustainability goals can be established mirroring the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 as part of the 2030 Development Agenda titled "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development". 

SDGs are a collection of 17 interlinked objectives designed to serve as a "shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future".

These goals aim to address global challenges such as no poverty,  zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy,  and ten goals more. They represent an important opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry to contribute to a more sustainable and equitable world. 


What is sustainability by design in Pharma?

Sustainability by design is a powerful concept representing a shift towards a more sustainable and responsible approach to drug development and manufacturing.

Incorporating sustainable practices into the design of pharmaceutical facilities, medicinal products, and manufacturing processes, pharma companies can significantly reduce their environmental impact.

For example, advanced manufacturing technologies play a crucial role in sustainability by design. By leveraging cutting-edge technologies like 3D printing and automation, pharma companies can create more efficient and sustainable manufacturing processes, reducing waste and energy consumption while increasing output.

In addition, it can also help to improve product quality and safety. 

By incorporating sustainable practices into the development of medicinal products, pharma companies can ensure that their products are not only effective but also safe and sustainable for patients.



What is the role of Quality Management Systems (QMS) in sustainability by design in Pharma?

QMS play an integral role in ensuring sustainable practices are incorporated into pharmaceutical practices. A QMS is the process that plans, implements, checks and acts continuously to meet environmental regulations and standards, optimize research, optimize development methods and production processes to improve sustainability.

By implementing the right QMS, organizations can examine their processes, redefine them, fine-tune them and ensure that their operations are sustainable-by-design across all steps.

The goal is to mitigate the risk of errors and guarantee the continuous availability of high-quality products in the market, while simultaneously progressing towards a pollution-free environment.


Here are some other examples:

  • QMS can help implement responsible waste management practices to operate in a sustainable way that doesn't negatively impact the environment. 

  • QMS can help reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by implementing continuous manufacturing, energy-efficient processes and using renewable energy sources.

  • QMS can promote sustainable sourcing of raw materials by ensuring that suppliers meet strict environmental and social responsibility standards. 

  • QMS can support sustainable product design, such as using biodegradable packaging, reducing the size and weight of products, and using materials that are recyclable or made from recycled content.

  • QMS can implement principles from the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, which was published by the European Commission in 2020, promoting the reduction in the use of hazardous chemicals and encouraging the use of safe and sustainable alternatives.

  • QMS can guide initiatives for investing in innovation in the Pharma industry and its value chains for creating a sustainable future.


Discover how a Smart Quality Management Software can help you improve your processes to become more sustainability-oriented. 



Challenges of sustainability in Pharma

When it comes to sustainability in the pharmaceutical industry, the challenges are significant. 

One of the biggest obstacles is the lack of a clear definition of what it means to be sustainable in an industry that relies heavily on developing new drugs, each with their own environmental impact. 

But the truth is, sustainability in pharma should be about taking a comprehensive approach to the entire product lifecycle, from drug development and manufacture to distribution and disposal.

Unfortunately, many companies continue to prioritize profit and speed over environmental and social responsibility, leading to the waste of valuable resources and energy. This mindset often results in the prices of essential medicines being out of reach for many vulnerable people, particularly those in low-income countries. The cost of life-saving drugs can also be exorbitant, preventing access to healthcare for those who need it the most.

Another significant issue is the disposal of unused or expired drugs.

So, what can be done to ensure that sustainability in pharma is not just a buzzword? It starts with a fundamental shift in the industry's priorities. 

Companies must prioritize the health and well-being of people and the planet over short-term profits. This means adopting sustainable practices throughout the product lifecycle, reducing waste, and improving energy efficiency in drug production. 

According to the DAVOS manifesto, a company’s performance must be measured not only on the return to shareholders, but also on how it achieves its environmental, social and good governance objectives.

How can Pharma implement sustainability by design practices?

In Pharma, sustainability by design is a critical issue that cannot be ignored. There are several ways, including:

  • Setting specific sustainability targets
  • Conducting life cycle assessments
  • Adopting green chemistry
  • Choosing eco-friendly materials
  • Optimizing manufacturing processes, and
  • Developing sustainable supply chains

Setting sustainability targets is a great way to establish clear goals for reducing their environmental impact. For instance, Pharma can focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions or minimizing waste in their product development process.

Life cycle assessments are another valuable tool to evaluate the environmental impacts of the products. This assessment looks at every stage of a product's life, from raw material extraction to disposal, to determine its overall environmental impact.

To create a more sustainable future, Pharma companies can also adopt green chemistry principles. This includes using safer and less toxic chemicals, reducing waste, and increasing efficiency in chemical processes. Recovering, recycling and re-using solvents, water and catalysts minimize the consumption of materials that require energy.

Choosing eco-friendly materials is another way to reduce their environmental impact. This includes using recycled materials, biodegradable plastics, and minimizing the use of harmful chemicals in the drug development process.

Pharma companies can also optimize their manufacturing processes to reduce energy consumption and waste generation. This includes using energy-efficient equipment, reducing water consumption, and optimizing production schedules.

Finally, developing sustainable supply chains is a crucial step. By working with suppliers to ensure that raw materials are sustainably sourced and that suppliers meet environmental and social standards, Pharma companies can make a significant positive impact on society and the planet.

By adopting these practices, Pharma companies can reduce their environmental impact, enhance their reputation, and promote a more sustainable and equitable future for all.

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