Pharma: Green with envy

April 14, 2022
The industry's fast follower approach to sustainability has picked up speed

Countless human-made innovations were ripped off from the greatest inventor of all time: nature.

I suppose if you’re going to borrow someone’s notes, it might as well be someone whose technique has been perfected through 3 billion years of trial and error.

Road systems are an interesting example of nature-inspired design. Not only do our road networks resemble venation found in plant leaves, but according to some researchers, they also grow in similar ways.

Using mathematical models, researchers determined that in much the same way that leaf vein patterns are optimized to transport water and nutrients to the plant, road networks grow in a manner that most efficiently connects new houses, businesses and other infrastructure to existing roads.

When it comes to borrowing design concepts from nature, sometimes this happens organically, and sometimes it’s very purposeful. Biomimicry — mimicking natural processes to solve human design challenges — is an emerging approach increasingly being used to create sustainable systems.

The pharma industry has a familiar relationship with biomimicry when it comes to drug products. The process to make biologic drugs simulates nature so much that in some cases, nature is physically part of the process. Plant-based therapeutics, for example, are made by hijacking the protein-making functions of a plant and using the plant’s leaves to essentially replace traditional bioreactor equipment. Biomimetic drug delivery systems, developed by directly utilizing or mimicking biological structures, provide promising approaches that can overcome traditional barriers to drug delivery. And, especially relevant right now, the study of natural processes has proven vital in understanding the trajectory of new infectious diseases like COVID-19.

But what about the physical facilities pharma uses to make its products? As you will read in this month’s cover story, ‘sustainability’ in pharma facility design is not an easy feat. For starters, maintaining the regulated, critical environments mandated in drug manufacturing is incredibly energy-intensive. Just a few years ago, a study found that the pharma manufacturing industry was spending more than $1 billion on energy consumption every year — and generating 55% more emissions than the automotive industry.

For a long time, the industry tasked with delivering lifesaving drugs to the world got somewhat of a pass on green demands. No one expected pharma to go first. When it comes to adopting new trends, the risk-averse pharma industry tends to proceed with caution, allowing other industries (and then other pharma companies) to pioneer technology.

But if you’ve seen IPCC’s latest (and terrifying) climate report, it’s officially now or never. As governments around the world endeavor to shake all the remaining leaves from the unsustainable tree, pharma finds itself hitting the gas pedal in its pursuit of greener ways.

Borrowing tactics utilized in other industries, such as third-party resource management, secondhand equipment and LEED building concepts, pharma is now hustling down a greener road.

And the even better news is, when the pharma sustainability wind blows, it carries with it all the stakeholders in the industry’s tightly-knit supply chain. As greener practices are mirrored by all parts of the interconnected pharma manufacturing network, sustainability will grow and thrive. 

About the Author

Karen P. Langhauser | Chief Content Director, Pharma Manufacturing

Karen currently serves as Pharma Manufacturing's chief content director.

Now having dedicated her entire career to b2b journalism, Karen got her start writing for Food Manufacturing magazine. She made the decision to trade food for drugs in 2013, when she joined Putman Media as the digital content manager for Pharma Manufacturing, later taking the helm on the brand in 2016.

As an award-winning journalist with 20+ years experience writing in the manufacturing space, Karen passionately believes that b2b content does not have to suck. As the content director, her ongoing mission has been to keep Pharma Manufacturing's editorial look, tone and content fresh and accessible.

Karen graduated with honors from Bucknell University, where she majored in English and played Division 1 softball for the Bison. Happily living in NJ's famed Asbury Park, Karen is a retired Garden State Rollergirl, known to the roller derby community as the 'Predator-in-Chief.'