Whatís Your True Green?
If it canít be measured, it canít be green; leading manufacturers are turning to advanced metrics to show just how sustainable their products, processes, and plants really are.
By Paul Thomas, Senior Editor
Such strategies and metrics are working. Last year, J&J ranked third among global companies, in all industries, in Newsweek’s annual green rankings
. (GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis also placed in the top 10.) It fared particularly well in terms of its green policies and what Newsweek calls an Environmental Impact Score (EIS), comprised of more than 700 metrics, from greenhouse gas emissions to solid waste disposal.
“Our goals 15 or 20 years ago were facility-focused,” says Phil Dahlin, company veteran and current Sustainability Manager for J&J Pharma. Over time, he says, particularly as payers (such as group purchasing organizations and hospital networks in the U.S., and governments abroad) and other customers demanded more transparency, the emphasis shifted to how products themselves were impacting consumers and the broader environment. The internal metrics that J&J uses to gauge its own greenness now are vast.
It’s just the start, says Dahlin. “The whole field of metrics is still emerging,” he says, especially around the products themselves. This is despite the fact that, Dahlin says, payers are most interested in product improvements that save them money, or perhaps use less packaging or biodegrade more readily. They’re also interested in the chemicals that go into products and packaging—does packaging contain PVC or phthalates, for example. “Right now, most of the quote unquote metrics [of concern to payers and consumers] are more of the yes/no type of metrics,” he says. “Does the product have this in it, or not?”
This attitude is changing, he says, especially in the U.K., where the National Health Service is prodding drug manufacturers to provide more carbon footprint and lifecycle analysis information regarding products. The NHS “is convinced that the procurement of pharma products drives a large portion of the country’s overall footprint,” Dahlin says. “So how do we first assess the carbon impacts of healthcare, and how do we determine that low-carbon healthcare pathway? All these issues are emerging right now.”Life Cycles
What is the carbon footprint of a given drug? What will its impact be over its entire useful life and beyond? As groups like NHS (and hopefully EPA and FDA in the U.S.) demand more, manufacturers will need to get a handle on life cycle assessment (LCA), especially what is known as environmental LCA. J&J is gaining competency in this area, Dahlin notes.
LCA is still not widely practiced in pharma, though in essence it’s the ultimate set of metrics to assess the sustainability of processes and products. “LCA is indeed the best framework so far to measure sustainability,” especially when environmental LCA is integrated with life cycle costing (LCC) and social LCA, says Conchita Jimenez-Gonzalez, director of operational sustainability at GlaxoSmithKline, often mentioned as the industry’s leader in LCA. “Unfortunately, the uptake has been hindered because this is a tool that can be very labor intensive, and there is not a good database of fine and complex chemicals used in pharma.”
Another challenge: most pharma companies do not understand the fundamentals of LCA beyond the tactical calculations, she says. Thus, they “find it difficult to communicate the outputs within the context of uncertainty, and especially find it challenging to translate a very complex context into specific learnings and guidance for development scientists and engineers.”
Jimenez-Gonzalez is also the chair of the ACS GCI Pharma Roundtable, whose member companies are working to simplify and streamline their LCA models, she adds. “One goal is to have predictive LCA measures incorporated earlier in development routes, so green chemistry and engineering concepts can be integrated early in synthesis.” (Pfizer is doing just this, as illustrated in “Leveraging Green Metrics for Route Selection and Process Optimization
.”)Mass and Energy
The shared LCA experiences of the Pharma Roundtable member companies have led the group to hone in on better understanding process materials. “If we improve material efficiency, we will improve our overall LCA profile,” says Jimenez-Gonzalez. The group has adopted process mass intensity as its flagship metric—“which keeps things simple, but not simplistic,” she says, and preliminary data show that members, collectively, are reducing PMI.
The Roundtable wants the vendor community more involved as well, and has recently released a letter
to providers of lab notebooks and LIMS systems expressing a “strong desire” to have standardized calculation functionalities for PMI and other green process metrics.
Process mass intensity and other mass-oriented metrics are in vogue but, as Buzz Cue notes, they tend to overlook the energy ramifications of given processes. Johnson & Johnson has been experimenting with more energy-based process metrics—looking at input vs. output, where energy is lost, what energy might be renewable, and weighing different process options, says Sandy Yee, director of Environmental Affairs and Compliance for Pharmaceuticals, and a member of the company’s green chemistry team.
Through this “energy lens,” J&J and researchers at the University of Ghent in Belgium have looked at, for instance, crystallization versus chromatography for the separation of a compound, and whether distillation or solvent recovery is better, from an energy standpoint, for the treatment of solvent waste. They are also comparing the energy efficiencies of continuous and batch chemical reactions .