Magazine Article | August 1, 2012

Pharmaceutical Supply Chain: The Next Green Frontier

Source: Life Science Leader

By Gary Hutchinson, Modality Solutions, LLC

The life sciences industry has been relatively slow to put the principles of environmental citizenship into action. In examining the progression of environmental stewardship within our industry, it’s evident the greatest momentum has come from the manufacturing side. This is not surprising, since manufacturing offers the most control over infrastructure, significant economies of scale, and immediate improvement opportunities. Companies intent on reducing water consumption and improving waste stream management have seen small changes to manufacturing processes yield big results.

Golden Opportunities In Cold Chain Sustainability
Despite steady progress on the manufacturing side, cold chain sustainability efforts are still in their infancy. In lieu of real advancements, we’ve witnessed a reliance on overdesigned thermal packaging for temperature-sensitive products. The reasons are twofold. First, there are widespread misperceptions and misunderstandings about shipping environments and thermal control requirements of the transported products. And second, strong process controls are not always in place to indicate if temperature excursions may have potentially affected the quality of temperature-sensitive products.

Overdesigned packaging is inconsistent with a comprehensive cold chain sustainability effort. It’s expensive to manufacture, the additional weight adds to the shipping costs, and when its job is done, the material often returns to the environment as waste.

Biopharmaceutical manufacturers interested in improving their cold chain sustainability should consider an integrated cold chain management system. This approach includes appropriate packaging, deferred shipping when possible, and proper temperature monitoring and controls, all of which can lower the overall carbon footprint and improve multichannel environmental efforts. Innovative packaging companies are starting to identify ways they can reduce their environmental footprint and support these manufacturers as they strive to achieve sustainability goals.

Assessing Many Shades Of Green
A growing number of businesses (mine included) conduct environmental sustainability assessments to help companies evaluate their existing practices and design plans for improvement. Most use ISO 14000, a core set of standards used by organizations for designing and implementing an effective environmental management system. A complementary set of standards, ReCiPe 2008, provides 18 mathematical models to convert an inventory analysis into an impact assessment and is considered the most comprehensive and rigorous open-source technique to date.

The assessments themselves and how they are used are evolving, becoming more meaningful to downstream decision makers who place a premium on environmental stewardship and how products and services can help them realize sustainability goals. Here is one example of how that works. Temptime Corporation recently commissioned a full product life cycle impact analysis of its cumulative heat-and-freeze monitoring devices, which are mainly used for vaccines and biologics. While most impact assessments use only carbon footprint as a metric for environmental impact, this assessment was more comprehensive and went well beyond the boundaries of carbon footprint/CO2 generation. It measured inputs and outputs relative to human health, ecosystems, resources, water depletion, climate change, and cumulative energy demand.

The assessment included comprehensive sustainability profiles for two of the company’s major products and comparative analyses with other marketed monitoring technologies. The combination makes a powerful case to a growing audience of decision makers now placing a premium on environmentally sustainable business practices, services, and products. And the assessment highlights an area of opportunity for companies employing greener cold chain technologies in their business operations.

Minimizing the environmental impact of the cold chain begins with a deeper understanding of the shipping environment and appropriate packaging, applying an international standard to assess environmental impact to understand areas of opportunity and developing a plan to drive incremental improvement.

About The Author
Gary Hutchinson is president of Modality Solutions, LLC, which provides engineering/controlled environment logistics for biotechnology and other high-risk, highly regulated products.