If you listen to the public pronouncements of the CEO or chairman of pharmaceutical companies, you will get the impression that they are heavily committed to the sustainability agenda. This is reinforced by their websites and corporate responsibility reports. It is to be expected, since it is the message that the stakeholders—including shareholders, the media, and members of the public want to hear.
However, if you are a senior manager working in the environmental function of many of these corporations, getting an appointment to discuss sustainability issues with the CFO or CEO can be a frustrating experience. This should not be too surprising, since these are busy people and, let’s face it, sustainability is not usually at the top of their agenda.
Not to worry because, as we all know, these are not the people who actually get things done. For that we need middle managers, the people on the ground who have the power to deliver. These managers know all about the corporate objectives for sustainability. The problem is, they are being measured against other criteria and not surprisingly it is those criteria that they prioritize. If sustainability is on their agenda at all, it is almost certainly close to the bottom.
So how do you make progress in your green or sustainable initiatives? Do not despair. There are two magic words, “Cost Saving,” that will open all doors and turn a perceived problem into an opportunity.
Most managers in the pharmaceutical industry think that “green initiatives” are going to add cost, and in the current business environment this will not be looked at sympathetically. The environmental manager can often inadvertently reinforce this view. Here’s a simple example. I have been asked on a number of occasions to help persuade a site manager to buy recycled paper, at greater cost, to support the site’s sustainability program. I have then had to point out that buying recycled paper is the last thing you should do: the first task is to minimize paper use on the site by, for example, ensuring that the default setting of all printers and photocopiers is double-sided. Reducing paper use will save money and is more sustainable than simply using recycled paper.
The Cost of Waste
The first objective in the implementation of any sustainability program should be the elimination of waste. Sustainability is of course much broader than this, but the advantage of waste minimization is that it leads directly to an improvement in the bottom line, which is attractive to everybody. A manager will not be impressed by the suggestion that an improvement to the corporate sustainability agenda can be had for a mere $100 expenditure, but if you can show how $100 can be shaved off the current budget, the manager will bite your hand off while considering the associated improved environmental performance as a bonus.
Most people have a poor appreciation of the cost of waste: many managers, when asked, will simply point to the relatively trivial direct costs of waste disposal. However the true cost of waste can be summarized in the following aphorism: what you don’t waste you didn’t have to buy in the first place.
Consider something inexpensive like water. Minimizing water consumption not only saves the purchase cost, but also saves the cost of eventual effluent treatment and may save you significant amounts of capital investment in being able to reduce the scale of your wastewater treatment plant. Remember every gallon of water used by a hydraulic vacuum pump is an unnecessary gallon of water going to the treatment plant.
Energy is often paid for as an overall site overhead cost. In such circumstances it is in everyone’s interest to minimize energy use, but no one does it. Installation of simple metering, enabling differential charging to varied facilities and buildings, can have a dramatic effect on energy consumption, saving far more than the cost of the initial metering. Consider voltage regulation of your power supply; many electrical supplies are rated at 240 volts, whereas most electrical equipment operates satisfactorily at 220 volts. In one company installation of voltage regulators to reduce voltage by 5% saved $1 million a year in energy costs.
Process wastes are not normally seen as an issue. Solvents will of course be recycled and the residual solid waste sent off for incineration at relatively modest cost. But consider what this waste was before it was sent for disposal; what did you pay for those certified starting materials and what did that essential intermediate really cost that? Having purchased expensive raw materials, are you really now paying to throw them away? Very small increases in process efficiency and raw material handling can translate into significant cost savings.
In essence, waste elimination is always likely to lead to cost reduction. Thus, “selling” sustainability in this way is going to be win:win:win—a win for the manager in terms of budget, a win for you in terms of corporate objectives, and a win for all of us in terms of a more sustainable future.
About the Author
David Taylor, PhD is Strategy Director at wca environment, ltd. He was formerly Global Director of Environment & Sustainability for AstraZeneca.