InSight: Is pharma doing enough on sustainability?

Neeshe Williams, general counsel and head of ESG at Pharmanovia

Neeshe Williams, general counsel and head of ESG at Pharmanovia, considers the issue of sustainability in the pharmaceutical industry. Pharmanovia is a UK-based international specialty pharma business.

While many industries came to a grinding halt on the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, this wasn’t the case for the pharmaceutical industry.

Fundamentally, the industry serves to provide essential and needed medicines to end-patients, so decelerating was simply not an option. Instead, as society navigated the pandemic, the industry accelerated.

Prioritising the unimpeded transportation of safe, essential medicines has set the pharma industry slightly behind in terms of transitioning to become more sustainable. However, as we move into the post-pandemic era, there has been a seismic shift towards collaborating to achieve common end goals, such as improving the patient experience, upscaling ESG credentials, and reducing the industry’s carbon footprint.

The roadmap to becoming more sustainable

Now that net-zero targets have been outlined by policymakers across the globe, and following the COP-26 summit, collaboration and sharing of information externally between organisations will be pivotal for the pharma industry to become more sustainable.

The industry must acknowledge that embedding and upscaling ESG credentials is not solely the responsibility of one specific department or function, but must be addressed throughout all operations, with any partners, and throughout the supply chain.

It’s vital that each organisation sets out achievable goals, with a clear road map of the processes and policies required to achieve them. Businesses that are prioritising embedding ESG objectives into their culture will set an example for others to follow.

Strategise and prioritise

There are some additional costs associated with meeting ESG criteria, but at Pharmanovia we are aiming to overcome this by planning ahead and harnessing data through technological innovation to improve global access to medicines while considering ESG factors.

On the logistics side, transportation of products is a significant factor to consider when determining an accurate carbon footprint, with air freight the biggest contributor. Transitioning to sea freight rather than air freight where possible will undoubtedly make an impact.

Utilising localised packaging hubs across a wide, trusted network to ship products out as early as possible to relevant markets will also reap significant benefits, improving patient access while minimising the risk of potential write-offs and consequent wastage.

At the community pharmacy level, incorporating the latest technology available to implement practical, scalable system-wide frameworks will go a long way towards the industry’s transition to becoming more sustainable; ensuring every dose is used, correct quantities are ordered, and waste is significantly reduced.

Taking a long-term viewpoint

The beneficial trade off can be hard to quantify in the short-term, which is a potential setback. We’re optimistic that we’ll begin to see a ‘domino effect’ of organisations making steps forward to improve and expand their sustainability initiatives, meaning the financial costs of doing so will fall. Nonetheless, the overarching benefits significantly outweigh the financial costs.

This won’t be a short process, and it’s vital that all stakeholders acknowledge this. At the same time, we must take confidence in the fact that the industry is moving in the right direction, positive momentum is building towards common sustainability goals, while products continue to reach end patients in the most optimal condition required.