What’s Your True Green?

If it can’t be measured, it can’t 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

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When it comes to corporate sustainability, there are embracers and cautious adopters, says a recent report from MIT’s Sloan Management Review. More and more, the report says, “the world is tilting towards embracers.” Public policies, investors, and consumers alike are favoring companies who wholeheartedly go green [1].

Fortunately for pharma, most of its industry leaders are proven embracers. (See, for instance, “Pharma’s Green Evolution,” October 2009.) But as we all know, “green” and “sustainability” are vague, slippery terms. Sustainability in the business sense, according to the U.S. EPA, aims to “increase long-term shareholder and social value, while decreasing industry’s use of materials and reducing negative impacts on the environment.” The definition allows for a lot of wiggle room, so even the true embracers must answer to two simple words: prove it.

Feeling at least modest pressure to do so, many drug manufacturers are looking to green metrics for their processes, products, and facilities. Before an ever more jaundiced public, one’s green fingerprint must be established.  

Green Metrics: Related Articles:

Scratching the Surface
Pharma’s green metrics are developing, but still lacking, says Berkeley “Buzz” Cue, president of BWC Pharma Consulting and a founder of the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute’s Pharmaceutical Roundtable. For pharma processes, for instance, says Cue, most major manufacturers are well acquainted with metrics such as process mass intensity (PMI, or kg material / kg product) and E-Factor (kg waste / kg product) to gauge the usage of solvents, reagents, water, and so on.

Still, pharma processes are environmentally taxing. “Typical E-factors or MI’s are greater than 100 with the industry best E/MI around 10,” Cue says. “That means the typical API process consumes more than 100 kg of materials to produce 1 kg of API. There is clearly room for improvement.”

And clearly, not everyone’s on the green bandwagon. As industry leaders begin to broaden and integrate their green metrics to provide more holistic information about what they do, they are the exception. “To my knowledge,” Cue continues, “smaller pharma and biopharma companies do not generally track green metrics unless the metric is required to demonstrate compliance with environmental regulations.”

And the generics industry, he adds, is largely absent in adopting green chemistry methods and subsequent metrics (an exception being Dr. Reddys, he notes). It’s a real issue when one considers that generics comprise a growing majority of patient prescriptions, he says.

Whether branded or generic, big or small, does corporate management care? Are green metrics just for geeks and idealists? “Those corporate officers who live in the C-suite for the most part are unaware that their companies are even involved in green chemistry—let alone that metrics to measure the greenness of their products and processes are being developed,” Cue says. “We are seeing more information about a company’s green chemistry activities on their websites and in corporate annual reports, but this is just beginning.”

Cue has heard tell that one major drug manufacturer may this year disclose E-factors for each of its commercial API processes. “It will be a huge positive step,” he says. “Nothing like peer pressure.” (Read here for the full interview with Cue.)

A Long Journey
It’s helpful to remember that this “sustainability” thing is a fairly new phenomenon. J&J provides an example of the time and effort needed to establish a comprehensive, working sustainability program. The company began its formalized sustainability journey in 1995 with a clear set of guiding principles, the J&J Credo, says Ann Lee-Jeffs, the company’s manager of Product Stewardship. The credo spelled out a management commitment to taking care of patients and employees, as well as the environment.

At the time, the company also began a series of five-year goals, the first aimed at pollution prevention. With those goals achieved, Next Generation Goals (NGG) were set in 2000 to target higher levels of our environmental, health and safety (EHS) accomplishments. These were expanded with Healthy Planet 2010 (HP2010), which went beyond EHS to cover sustainability areas such as transparency, biodiversity, and product stewardship, Lee-Jeffs notes. Finally, as the company’s understanding of sustainability continued to expand, Healthy Future 2015 goals—and accompanying metrics—were set to cover areas such as social responsibility and supply chain.  

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