Gravitating towards planet centricity - European Medical Journal

Gravitating towards planet centricity

3 Mins
Climate change is visible all around us and is impacting on people’s health around the world. It is time for the pharmaceutical industry to recognise their duty of care to the planet as well as patients, and drastically reduce their carbon footprint
Words by Kirstie Turner

Our planet is dying. Climate change, the slow and silent killer, is a deadly opponent, and no matter how hard it tries, planet Earth cannot fight back alone. Global temperatures and sea levels rise, as the Amazon rainforest disappears at a rate of 200,000 acres every single day. The pharmaceutical industry is where we turn for treatment, so what better ally is there for Earth in its hour of need?

For the industry that strives to put patients first, the increased health risks associated with climate change should be a hot topic of concern. Jose Francisco Vallejo, Global Head of Environment, Takeda Pharmaceuticals says: “At Takeda, we recognise that climate change is intensifying risks to global health, including infectious diseases made worse by climate change. As a global biopharmaceutical company committed to bringing better health and a brighter future to people worldwide, protecting the climate is an integral part of that commitment.”

But how should pharma go about fulfilling this commitment? Knowledge is power, and this is true of the fight against climate change; companies cannot reduce their impact on the environment if they are not aware of it. There are companies who are making a concerted effort to obtain complete awareness, such as AstraZeneca, as Ben Norbury, Senior Environment Specialist, AstraZeneca, discusses: “We understand our direct footprint extremely well and invest heavily to decouple emissions from business growth.”

Innovation could be pharma’s secret weapon, offering pioneering changes throughout the supply chain. But change must also come from regulatory boards first, as Dorethe Nielsen, Vice President, Corporate Environmental Strategy, Novo Nordisk, explains: “Innovation across the industry is especially needed when it comes to the take-back of used products, as today many parts of the legislation and national laws prevent collection and recycling of medical devices. Rules and regulations need to be revisited and modified to support a circular way of working.” It can be a challenge just getting people engaged in the climate change conversation: if regulations are holding back sustainable progress, buy-in will be hindered even further.

However, many companies are not letting regulation boundaries hold them back and are making admirable leaps towards sustainability. Norbury discusses AstraZeneca’s approach: “We follow the science to set strong targets for greenhouse gas emission reduction. We use a hierarchy approach to avoid emissions through major business decisions, reducing emissions through efficiency and electrification of our vehicle fleet, substituting energy sources for renewables, and finally undertaking some compensation for residual emissions.”

Takeda, similarly, have a commendable approach: “We want to set a strong industry example and have set ambitious goals for ourselves to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions from our operations by 2040 and by working with our suppliers to significantly reduce their emissions and addressing remaining emissions through verified carbon offsets. Given the immediate risks to global health posed by climate change, the company commits to carbon neutrality through the purchase of renewable energy and verified carbon offsets, while simultaneously working to reduce emissions from its operations and suppliers,” outlines Vallejo.

Renewables are the future of pharma; fossil fuels, for example, will be entirely drained by 2060 if global usage continues at its current rate. Novo Nordisk have invested in a game-changing project, as Nielsen explains: “In 2019 we invested in what is about to become the largest solar farm in North Carolina, USA. The electricity sourced from this plant will replace all fossil fuel-based power used by Novo Nordisk in the USA, significantly reducing our carbon emissions and impact on the climate.” Their efforts are admirable: “Novo Nordisk will meet our 2020 target to produce 100% renewable power globally,” continues Nielsen.

All we did was look at the world around us for inspiration

Initiatives such as these are extremely important, but pharma’s responsibilities go further than just the day-to-day operations of individual companies. Norbury identifies: “We recognise that our value chain has a greater climate impact than just our direct operations and we are engaging suppliers to join us on a journey to achieving steep emissions reduction to eventual net zero emissions.” By engaging suppliers across the value chain, a cohesive response to the climate challenge can be achieved.

“Collaboration with our suppliers and partners will be especially key to successfully reducing indirect emissions throughout our value chain and also to effectively promote the development of innovative new low-carbon technologies and processes,” comments Vallejo, but people are only going to change their impact on climate change if they really want to and are willing to face the problem head on. Creating this buy-in is critical. “The upstream value chain is less directly engaged and if we are to mitigate the climate crisis to the extent that is positive for human health then significant innovation will be required, along every step of the material and services value chains,” adds Norbury.

Pharma also has a responsibility to help patients and doctors to use their products in a sustainable way, as Norbury explains: “HCP and patient behaviour with regard to prescribing and adherence of taking medicine can have a large impact; good patient and medicine management is not only better for patient health, but ensures only the necessary amount of medicine is manufactured in the first place, with the associated lifecycle carbon footprint.”

Vallejo concludes: “To achieve our climate commitments, we will need to focus on several key levers including energy efficiency, switching to low-carbon fuels, on-site and off-site renewable energy sourcing, investing in and adopting innovative new technologies that will help to decarbonise our operations and creating a culture of shared responsibility for the environment.” Fostering this culture will be a challenge, but it is a highly beneficial and necessary one.

Climate change isn’t coming; it is already here. The industry is abuzz with talk of patient centricity, personalised medicines, and the future of digital, but if we do not face the climate crisis now, there will be an onslaught of much bigger problems to contend with. The time for change is now.

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