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Apr 1, 2009 (Vol. 29, No. 7)

Ongoing Pursuit of Sustainable Operations

Industry Has Embraced All Things Green and Is Operating Ahead of Government Mandates

  • Lean Equals Green

    Lean operational strategies, by nature, lower an organization’s environmental impact by minimizing waste and reducing inefficiencies that consume human and natural resources. Streamlining operations, says Mark Butler, GM and principal at engineering firm IPS, is where pharmaceutical and biotech firms should seek environmentally friendly processes that are also profitable.

    The next opportunity zone is a facility’s energy utilization. Here, companies need to adopt risk-based approaches to energy that ascertain services can safely be altered or reduced without affecting product quality or worker safety.

    Some easy changes involve the installation of premium-efficiency motors that drive numerous plant services such as moving chilled water through the facility or delivering USP water and water for injection (WFI) into upstream unit operation. “There are hundreds of large motors in a typical biotech plant,” says Butler. Premium-efficiency motors cost more, but their payback in reduced energy consumption is generally on the order of one to two years.

    When specifying materials for construction or renovation, Butler sources materials and supplies from within a 500-mile radius of the site to reduce transportation-related energy costs. He also seeks out low-VOC glues, adhesives, and paints, and uses materials with a recyclable component whenever possible.

    IPS is enthusiastic about disposable process equipment and facilities designed for their use. Disposables provide much-needed flexibility while reducing time and consumption of water, electricity, and human resources associated with cleaning and cleaning validation. It may seem paradoxical that disposable equipment could be considered sustainable, but that is the conclusion most biotech firms reach after comparing the downside of single-use equipment with the energy, effort, and capital expenses associated with hard-piped stainless steel equipment.

    In planning retrofit and renovation projects for companies interested in green certification, IPS utilizes a scorecard that follows the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. LEED certification confers prestige, but more importantly signifies that the owner will enjoy significant energy savings over the facility’s life span. 

    Another green building design strategy involves minimizing the square footage of classified space through the use of isolators. Legacy biotech plants have probably overused classified space to be on the safe side. A risk-based approach might limit classified areas to the most critical operations.

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