Pharma Sustainability Is on a Roll

Drug industry environmental stewardship projects are becoming more sophisticated and challenging. Here are examples from AstraZeneca, Bayer, DSM, Pfizer, and EMD Millipore

By Paul Thomas, Senior Editor

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Drug manufacturers as a group have a good track record of environmental stewardship. Companies like J&J, BMS, Allergan, and Amgen, to name just a few, have been going green for years and regularly rank high in studies of corporate sustainability. Most manufacturers have thrown themselves headlong into, for instance, green chemistry and water- and energy-reduction measures to shrink their carbon footprints and chip away at operational expenses. (See, for example, “What’s Your True Green?” and “Pharma’s Green Evolution.”)

But, has the proverbial low-hanging fruit been picked? What’s next? Drug manufacturers are now undertaking more challenging green initiatives. What follows are snapshots of projects under way at four leading manufacturers—AstraZeneca, Bayer, DSM, and Pfizer—which show how pharma’s sustainability efforts are maturing. These initiatives can echo throughout the supply chain. In one case, a pharma supplier, EMD Millipore, is working with its top biopharma customers to ensure that it, too, reduces its environmental impact.

AstraZeneca: Monitoring API Emissions

The issue of Pharmaceuticals in the Environment (what some call PIE) has garnered plenty of media attention in the past several years, most of it negative. Fortunately, it’s an issue that groups like PhRMA, regulators such as the U.S. EPA,  and individual manufacturers such as AstraZeneca are now taking more seriously than ever. Most of the concern with drugs in the environment revolves around consumers who either excrete ummetabolized active ingredients or dispose of unused medications into sewage systems.

APIs entering the environment via effluent from manufacturing facilities, while less of a concern, is still significant. A team of AstraZeneca researchers headed by Richard Murray-Smith (based in Brixham, U.K.) have developed what they consider a proactive and risk-based approach to stemming potential API pollution from production sites. The approach identifies acceptable long- and short-term concentration levels—known as environmental reference concentrations (ERCs) and maximum tolerable concentrations (MTCs)—in the groundwater near facilities. It builds on traditional methods for monitoring, but also includes significantly more information regarding potential toxicity to primary consumers (e.g., algae), secondary consumers (e.g., fish and frogs), and indirect consumers such as fish-eating mammals and humans.

The approach—detailed here—also takes into account significantly more data than is customary and relies upon predictive modeling to help AstraZeneca and other manufacturers prioritize which types of emissions at which sites are of greatest concern.

“Most pharmaceutical manufacturers have good control of their discharges,” says Murray-Smith. “Ours is just one possible approach which we have published because we believe it is worth sharing and shows that we are taking the issue seriously.”

“The pharma industry has had some bad press in recent years concerning API discharges,” he adds, “which has often been frustrating because we have some excellent examples of good practice and some good stories to tell. We hope that our ERC approach will stimulate debate on how safe discharges can be defined in practice.”

AstraZeneca’s sustainability efforts have been supported from the very top of the organization. “This has been the single most important factor for ensuring successful implementation of our approach,” Murray-Smith says.

The results so far, he says, are not so much surprising as they are reassuring. “All of our own sites are operating within our ERC limits, and we are now starting to share our approach with our suppliers.”

Bayer: Keeping Data Cold and Green

Bayer has large and diverse sustainability initiatives. A recent unequivocal success has been its Green IT program, which aims at reducing the energy consumption and environmental impact of all facilities, but particularly its data centers in Leverkusen (Germany), Singapore, and Pittsburgh.

Bayer’s Dr. Peter Beck and
Klaus-Rainer Nyga in a cool
room in Leverkusen

Part of the program involves the virtualization of servers—relying upon web-based cloud services (provided by Amazon, for example). In 2011, it virtualized some 800 systems and thus eliminated a large number of servers, says Thomas Schilling, who coordinates the company’s Green IT activities. A year earlier than planned, the company has improved energy efficiency in its data centers by 20%.

Another part of the program involves the cooling of servers and data processing equipment via “cold-aisle containment.” Schilling discussed some of these efforts recently. (Here’s the full interview.)

PhM: How has Bayer virtualized its IT operations and what have the energy saving and other benefits been?

T.S.: The Bayer IT operations are based on a very broad virtualization strategy that not only addresses the server hosting itself, but also the virtualization of storage, network and applications. Nevertheless the core contributions to the energy savings come from the consolidation of a broad landscape of physical servers into a virtualization farm of larger x86 servers hosting several thousand guest systems with Windows and Linux operating systems. This aspect alone accounts for nearly 50% of our efficiency target or an overall efficiency increase of Data Center IT by almost 10% since 2009. On top of this, hosting costs can be reduced due to savings in hardware, network ports, power, cooling, and rack space.

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