Environmentalism has come a long way since the first Earth Day nearly 40 years ago. After nearly two decades of operating on the fringes, green has entered mainstream public policy and infiltrated nearly every commercial enterprise.
Pharmaceutical and biotechnology operations were slow to catch on. In some respects the former remains dirtier than most industries as measured by waste generated per unit weight of product produced. But the situation is improving rapidly. Every pharmaceutical and biotech company has implemented rigorous, organization-wide directives to conserve, recycle, and minimize waste in every theater of operation, including corporate, R&D, manufacturing, and distribution. And without exception they are uncovering substantial financial savings in the bargain.
This article examines the rationales and strategies for going green at the level of facility, laboratory, and in production.
California Leading the Way
California’s recently enacted green chemistry initiative is expected to set the national standard for green business practices. As Peter Hsiao, a partner at Morrison & Foerster and a specialist in environmental-industry law, notes, “It’s difficult to sell one product in California and another in the rest of the country.” The California initiative focuses mainly on consumer products, and paradoxically exempts pharmaceutical companies. Nevertheless, drug firms have overtaken many industries in their dedication to sustainability and appear to be operating several steps ahead of government mandates.
One component of California’s proposed regulation, which is still in the comment and rule-making stage, is the so-called cradle-to-cradle life cycle management, which promotes the design of inherently green products. “It arises from the idea of moving sustainability up the supply chain, not just at the end of a product’s life cycle, where toxic components remain that may trigger a clean-up obligation,” says Hsaio. The initiative instead provides incentives for companies to design environmental friendliness into the products, a type of green-by-design.