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Manufacture Facilities, Business Practice

The Green Facilities of the Future

In late July, António Gutteres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, penned letters to all  heads of state urging them to set out clear plans for achieving carbon-neutrality by 2050. The move comes amid increasing conversation about the state of the climate and the future of the increasingly polluted planet that younger generations will inherit. Though the letters were addressed to the most senior members of our governments, the message is pertinent to all of us. We only have one planet to live on and we should all feel compelled to play an ongoing responsible role in its care. 

The pharmaceutical industry, like all sectors, must take a clear stance on its corporate social responsibility. We collectively contribute to the betterment of patient lives worldwide and as a professional who works in pharma I am privy to the dedicated work carried out by the men and women who work in all areas of the drug development and supply chain processes. But pharma must also show the same level of dedication when it comes to our commitment to protecting the environment. 

Sustainability should be a central pillar of corporate philosophy. For approximately the last decade, my company has been certified according to the International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO) environmental protection standard, ISO 140001. The framework outlined by the standard supports companies and organizations in setting up environmental management systems and can be applied to business regardless of the sector they may fall under. In 2014, we also adopted ISO 50001, a standard for energy management. By adhering to these international guidelines, we have been able to introduce carbon-neutral energy derived from certified renewable sources to all of our German-based sites this year. We intend to offset our company-wide use of natural gas within the next ten years and invest in recognized, high quality climate protection projects, such as those involving reforestation for the unavoidable carbon dioxide emissions we produce.

Vetter was privileged enough to be awarded a Facility of the Future award for our Ravensburg-based Center for Visual Inspection and Logistics in the 2018 International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE) Facility of the Year Awards (FOYA). The site consequently realizes a sustainable energy concept and includes the operation of a modern, environmentally-friendly block heating and power plant, the use of geothermal energy and the comprehensive use of excess energy, as well as photovoltaic systems, all of which are combined in an energy-efficient manner. While we were honored to receive the prize, we – like all CDMOs – have work to do to keep up with the evolving pharmaceutical market.

Beyond our facility design and our strategies to minimize our carbon output, we continuously monitor our energy consumption, enabling us to identify areas for improvement in our operations. Sometimes, it is the little things that can make a big difference. For example, by digitizing many of our processes, including the replacement of paper-based procedures and opting for video call software to facilitate “face-to-face” meetings, we are incrementally reducing our impact on the planet. Though these may seem like small changes in the grand scheme of things, they are helping to retrain and prepare our employees for the fast-changing field of sustainability.

In parallel to our internal campaigns, we have also formed initiatives with the city administration and local organizations to help decrease the environmental impact of commuters, motivating our employees to seek alternative transport when traveling to and from work.

It is important to recognize that the ability of any given company to reach (or go beyond) the milestones I’ve outlined here may be limited by the regional mindsets of governments and institutions. I have observed stark differences in the attitude of organizations outside of the EU region when compared with those within it in regard to the adoption of green practices. Regulation also limits what companies are able to achieve in this space. The difference between simply renting a site and owning it are huge when it comes to what eco-friendly practices can be adopted. If, we, as an industry, were able to harmonize our standards for eco-friendly resource usage, the barriers to progress that many companies come up against could be broken down. 

As a CDMO in the field of aseptic manufacturing of injectables, we understand how resource-intensive the production process can be. Automated air circulation, water and electricity are all necessities in the creation of high-quality drug products. However, we as a sector need to be able to rethink the ways in which we use the resources at our disposal and encourage the adoption of innovative strategies that will help mitigate our footprints and bring us closer to carbon-neutrality. It is worthwhile trying to verify and realize options to harmonize regulatory requirements with environmental-friendly usage of resources. Generally, CDMOs need to embrace cleaner technologies in the near future to help reduce their environmental impact. The introduction of these technologies should be considered not only when companies are purchasing or acquiring new facilities, but also when expanding existing facilities to have the most significant impact.

It is also essential that companies keep their corporate social responsibility strategies as transparent as possible. Transparency goes hand in hand with trust and, for customers, clear and open corporate strategies can help dispel any doubts that they may have about the companies that they interact with. Transparency also helps open doors to collaboration with partners with similar goals and allows others to constructively critique the practices that they may adopt, allowing for continued growth and improvement.

Though it is necessary to assess the scope of work that needs to be done to improve pharma’s impact from a company or organizational level, it is important that we as individuals remember to play our part. We all have the ability to look beyond our personal horizons and recognize the severity of our actions upon others, not only within our immediate surroundings, but in places further afield.

The pharma industry is ultimately a solutions-provider, contributing to the improved quality of life of patients. Given that climate change is rapidly changing the world around us, shouldn’t we also take pride in being an influence and driving force in the move toward a greener future?

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About the Author
Thomas Otto

Managing Director at Vetter Pharma-Fertigung GmbH & Co. KG

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