Monday 11 March 2024

Incite a Greener Future With Sustainable Pharma Logistics

Image by Combustion2016 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Many leaders are prioritizing better sustainability in the pharmaceutical industry. They know customers and other stakeholders increasingly prefer engaging with companies that make progressively greener choices to protect the planet’s future and eliminate unnecessary resource usage. Making progress takes time and dedication, but modern executives are finding the most appropriate options to explore. Pinpointing logistics-related activities is a particularly popular option.


By Emily Newton


Reducing the Environmental Impacts

In a 2023 study that was the first of its kind, researchers found pharmaceutical businesses could reduce their environmental impacts by 45% by changing in a few targeted ways. More specifically, they could get those results by:


     Optimizing supply chain networks

     Improving production processes

     Switching to renewable energy


The study examined the entire life cycle carbon impact of the Tenofovir Disoproxil Fumarate, an HIV antiretroviral. While looking at the supply chain activities, the team found factors such as the long distances between raw material sources, manufacturing plants and patients were some of the biggest aspects to focus on for meaningful improvements. Doing so could cause a carbon footprint reduction of up to 9.3% throughout the product’s life cycle.


However, the researchers confirmed the energy sources used in manufacturing are the most significant carbon contributors. Besides finding clean alternatives, drugmakers can reduce emissions by altering internal processes or sourcing strategies, such as reducing how much packaging a drug requires or enhancing processes to recycle chemical solvents.


The results of this study should be a strong reminder to industry professionals that sustainability in the pharmaceutical industry happens through numerous actions. Even if people primarily emphasize logistics networks, they should also recognize the industry’s interconnectedness and how making changes in one non-logistics-centered area could ultimately improve supply chain performance, too.

Exploring Transport Methods to Curb Temperature-Related Losses and Excessive Emissions

Thinking about distances and energy sources is a great start for working on sustainability in the pharmaceutical industry. However, leaders must also remember loss prevention is another area of improvement to explore. After all, even a method that seems eco-friendly on paper would fall short if it results in products arriving in unsellable conditions.


Many pharmaceutical products must stay in temperature-controlled environments during transit and distribution to prevent spoilage. While referencing internal transport data about loss prevention, one pharmaceutical executive clarified only 10% of known temperature excursion events occurred during sea transport. In contrast, 50% happened during flights and enterprise representatives linked 40% to road journeys.


Technology solutions such as Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can give pharmaceutical logistics managers better oversight of products in motion, no matter where they are. Besides providing location-based information, many IoT options gather and transmit temperature-related information. Then, whether a refrigerated truck’s storage area fails or supply chain workers place a box of chilled medication in a warm place for too long, the relevant alerts can help managers take corrective action before the goods spoil.


Another option is to set and track metrics with all suppliers. Pharmaceutical executives should stipulate that all supply chain partners must meet certain minimum standards for achieving on-time deliveries, eliminating temperature-related accidents and tackling all other factors that could affect the bottom line.


Leaders should consider assisting suppliers and service providers in gradually reducing emissions through better supply chain management as the next step for improving sustainability in the pharmaceutical industry. That might mean logistics partners invest in electric delivery vehicles, using intelligent routing software or supporting efforts to develop greener aviation fuels.

Setting Goals and Examining the Options

As revealed in a small 2023 survey of biopharmaceutical supply leaders, many are getting serious about specific things they could do within and outside logistics to make sustainability progress. For example, 64% said they are actively pursuing or scaling up efforts to minimize adverse impacts on water quality. Additionally, 59% are working on sourcing sustainable materials and 57% are creating sustainable value chains.


Smart factories were another area of interest for many respondents, with 47% either starting to build them or scaling up existing ones. Such facilities will help enhance eco-friendliness by allowing companies to reduce emissions and resource usage during production, providing more opportunities to continue that momentum through logistics opportunities.


Elsewhere, research published in 2023 about the green efforts of more than 200 firms in 15 European countries found 90% planned to increase their corporate sustainability efforts. Seventy-six percent of respondents categorized in the study as sustainability governance experts felt optimistic about their performance. Conversely, significantly fewer — 45% — expressed that opinion at the beginning of their corporate environmental efforts.


These takeaways highlight how enhancing sustainability in the pharmaceutical industry takes time, but committing to efforts that will cause steady progress should pay off. Once logistics leaders set measurable goals and get everyone involved, they have set the foundation for greener pharmaceutical operations and supply chains.

Sustainability in the Pharmaceutical Industry Is Worthwhile

There is no single or best way to strive for enhanced sustainability in the pharmaceutical industry. Instead, logistics leaders will get the best results by studying what is working well in their organizations, and which operations or practices need the most improvement. Examining factors like budgets, workforce sizes and how many locations the pharmaceutical company operates worldwide will help them make targeted decisions, too.


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