To put things in perspective, in 2019 alone, the pharma sector produced 48.55 tonnes of CO2 — 55% more than the entire automobile industry. “There’s a tremendous amount of urgency to move the needle forward,” said Mike Dieterich, the new senior director of sustainability at CRB, a provider of sustainable engineering, architecture, construction and consulting offerings to the biopharmaceutical and food and beverage industries. “The threat of climate change is ever-present, and if there ever was a time to act, it’s now.”
Pharma’s proactive steps toward sustainability
Despite these challenges, the pharma industry is increasingly committed to sustainability. And according to Dieterich, an industry veteran with nearly two decades of experience in energy and sustainability, it’s more than just lip service. “From what I’ve seen, pharma companies are leading in this respect,” he said. “They’re pushing the envelope,”
After the 2015 signing of the Paris Agreement marked a global acknowledgment of climate change’s reality, the pharma sector “quickly set energy, carbon water, waste targets around that time, and what followed suit very quickly were net zero carbon targets,” Dieterich said.
Furthermore, companies within the industry are setting ambitious targets for their emissions.
Initially, once pharma companies have established their scope one and scope two goals, these organizations aimed for a 10 or 20% reduction over a 10 or 20 year period. Now, the targets are focused on reaching net zero carbon emissions.
Waste optimization is a capital-efficient strategy for sustainability in pharma
One of the low-hanging fruits in the realm of sustainability is waste optimization. Dieterich emphasized, “We don’t optimize waste regularly. So you can halve your waste removal costs by making sure that you’ve optimized your waste to the right size.” This strategy is an immediately actionable measure, and with committed personnel, waste optimization can result in significant cost savings. Dieterich further elaborated, “Sometimes equipment does have to be upgraded because systems break just like in your car, you know, your blinker stops working, or the air conditioning needs the Freon charge.”
Extending sustainability in pharma to suppliers
The industry’s commitments aren’t confined within the walls of their plants and extend to their suppliers. CRB is also encouraging its suppliers to decarbonize to align its scope three emissions, noted Dieterich. This holistic view indicates a significant shift in industry practices, representing a comprehensive effort to combat climate change.
Dieterich used a metaphor to express the industry’s progress, “The pharmaceutical industry has cast a stone into the pond of decarbonization, rippling an invitation to everyone in its path,” he stated.
Debunking misconceptions: Sustainability does not have to cost more
Despite the advances, there’s a common misperception that sustainability is expensive. “Sustainability does not have to cost more. It’s a misnomer that a lot of people have thrown out,” Dieterich said. The key lies in striking a balance between sustainable modifications and operational efficiency, both of which are not mutually exclusive. By using technology, energy modeling and tools, the industry can optimize its operations. Both on the CAPEX side and the OPEX (capital expenditures and operational expenditures) side, sustainable measures present opportunities to optimize costs, making it not just an environmentally conscious choice but also a financially savvy one.
Dieterich elaborated, using the example of improving the insulation and thermal efficiency of a building while downsizing its HVAC system. Other strategies he mentioned include optimizing the number of light fixtures installed and optimizing the frequency of air exchanges per hour, especially in situations of excessive lighting or over-ventilation.
The approach to sustainability, therefore, needs to be nuanced and comprehensive, considering all aspects of industry operations. “So really, what it comes down to is our clients are looking for sustainable best practices,” Dieterich said. “And we have the tools and the knowledge to deliver that and provide innovation and alternative paths forward while keeping costs in mind.”
Automating sustainability: Lighting optimization and beyond
When discussing lighting optimization, Dieterich emphasizes that this involves more than just switching to LEDs and daylight harvesting. “It’s about optimizing the layout of lighting and fixture placements, which in one case study resulted in 40% fewer fixtures, saving $1.3 million in upfront cost and reducing annual operational cost,” he said. This demonstrates the potential for significant savings from a sustainability initiative that may often be overlooked.
Automation isn’t just a buzzword in the realm of digital transformation; it also plays a critical role in sustainability. Dieterich noted, “All of these different perspectives are things that can happen right now because it’s a cost-saving measure that’s immediate and real. It’s pretty easy to do with some automation.” However, while automation can aid in sustainability, there will always be a need for regular maintenance and occasional upgrades to systems, just like in a car.
Another core element of sustainability in the pharmaceutical industry is optimizing energy use and water resources. You can repurpose reject water into a hot water or cooling tower systems, to identify synergies that reuse water onsite,” Dieterich shared. “There’s a lot of water optimization that can happen,” he added. “Not only is that key from a resource perspective, but it’s also a cost perspective.”
Cultivating a culture of sustainability in pharma
Ultimately, all the efforts toward sustainability come down to cultivating a culture that fosters it. “A lot of it is being able to collaborate, work together and have conversations,” Dieterich said.
He draws an analogy between one’s physical health and the health of a building. Maintaining a building management system is akin to regularly going to the gym and eating well, according to Dieterich. “It’s a way of staying on top of how that system is operating. You know you stop going to the gym, and your body starts to drift,” he said.
A culture of sustainability requires constant learning, understanding interconnectedness, and optimizing for the best outcomes. Conversations form the bedrock of this culture. “Having those conversations is key,” Dieterich concluded.