Biomanufacturers are still early in the process of developing sustainable practices, with defining sustainability and its measurement a key concern. That’s according to James Dean Vogel, founder and director of The BioProcess Institute.

Vogel, who is speaking about sustainability at BioProcess International in September, says whether sustainability is about carbon footprint, water use, or other metrics varies by organization and roles within companies. “Sustainability currently means different things to different people—akin to the story of seven blind people touching different parts of an elephant.”

For some companies, sustainability can simply mean reducing carbon footprint. Here, he says encouraging employees to carpool can make more impact than altering manufacturing processes. Alternatively, companies might focus on water use as a measure of sustainability. “And [the biggest] issue is adopting single-use [bioreactors], versus multiuse,” he explains.

According to Vogel, depending on metrics and how organizations account for sustainability, it may not be clear-cut whether stainless steel equipment uses more energy and water than single-use plastics. “There are the optics of waste that requires landfill space and incineration, but multi-use equipment needs lots of water and energy [to clean],” he says.

No clear answer

Many studies say one is better than the other, he says. “I don’t have any [clear] answers, but single-use offers many advantages so, if you’re early in the process, [there’s no reason] not to do single use,” he continues. “Once you get to larger scales, you need to do a hard analysis with profitability and costs paramount, and sustainability added into that.”

Many companies consider sustainability less during lab-scale and Phase I manufacturing, which makes sense, he explains.

“It’s happening more in mature organizations,” states Vogel. “And companies going into Phase III with a CDMOs are asking about sustainability practices for their platforms.”

He recommends all companies no matter what stage of development or manufacturing consider sustainability seriously!  It will pay off for their bottom line and the planet!

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