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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

  • Up and Down the Supply Chain

    Biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies increasingly look to their vendors for environmentally conscious products and practices. Life Technologies has instituted a green strategy covering all of its facilities and entire supply chain. The strategy evaluates the environmental friendliness and operational efficiencies surrounding Life Technologies’ suppliers, R&D, manufacturing, and distribution.

    Initiatives include a design for environment program that covers sustainable packaging, green chemistry, product life cycle related issues, and a new program, begun in 2009, that promotes sustainability at the innovation level.

    Like every company interviewed for this article, Life Technologies follows a return-on-investment philosophy that delivers profitable sustainability. “We don’t advocate going green only for its own sake,” says Cristina Amorim, senior director, global environmental health and safety.

    Life Technologies subscribes to the philosophy that conservation and waste reduction inevitably lead to a lower carbon footprint as defined by carbon dioxide emissions. All efficiencies, in any area of operation, will lead to greater sustainability.

    “When we save water we save energy because moving water through a facility is energy-intensive,” Amorim notes. One project involves improving the efficiency of the production of pure water through reverse osmosis. The idea is straightforward: Make the process more productive, and/or reduce water use, and the carbon footprint shrinks. Last year, for example, Life Technologies used recovered water for all its irrigation and landscaping, saving 700,000 gallons of water per month. Another idea is to use recycled water in cooling towers “but not for our products,” Amorim assures.

    Partnerships with local water and electric utilities are often overlooked strategies that can help conserve resources and save money.

    Life Technologies’ electric company provided experts who conducted an energy audit and submitted a plan for reducing the company’s electricity usage.

    The company’s first initiatives involved low-hanging fruit, and it plans to implement more ambitious energy-saving strategies that involve capital expenses later on—or sooner if a tangible return on investment can be demonstrated. “We have saved more than $10 million in energy costs over the last four years,” Amorim says, “but we can do even more.”

    Balancing sustainability with safety is a problem facing every R&D or manufacturing company, and Life Technologies acknowledges that. Air exchange is an oft-cited resource hog, with laboratory fume hoods leading the way. While exchange rates can be tinkered with in some parts of a facility, Amorim believes this strategy is not advisable for hoods because of worker safety issues. Here the company is implementing behavioral programs to induce employees to work smarter by lowering the sashes on fume hoods when they are not working in them.

    Pharmaceutical and biotech companies have achieved a great deal in the way of corporate and facility-based eco-friendliness. The fact that such strategies can also help their bottom line has accelerated implementation.

  • Going Green Incentives

    Market forces may already outstrip regulations for inducing the greening of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. While these incentives hold for any industry, the economic incentives for pharma and biotech run even deeper because of their stature within healthcare, and their high cost structures.

    • Public relations: Green companies are generally viewed quite favorably, and 20% of consumers choose products mainly on green attributes.
    • Peer pressure: When leading companies within an industry go green, others tend to follow. WalMart’s sustainability initiatives, for example, have profoundly affected its competitors and suppliers. We are witnessing the same dynamic today in pharmaceutical and biotech industries.
    • Green marketing or “Greenwashing”: Spurred by FTC regulations on truth in advertising, companies cannot simply claim environmental friendliness, they must demonstrate accomplishments substantively.
    • Economics: Sustainable processes lead to lower waste disposal costs, lower supply costs, and less exposure to environmental liability. Companies are taking the lead, initiating not only for green’s significant PR benefit, but because it saves money.

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Drug Price Hikes

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