“I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”
Three years ago, teenage activist Greta Thunberg delivered these remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, as part of a speech that quickly went viral. The crisis that Thunberg was referring to is climate change. More specifically, the almost unanimous consensus among scientists that human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases have caused global surface temperatures to rise — a trend that could have far-reaching consequences that range from unfortunate…to downright terrifying.
And while few topics have caused more widespread political and public debate than how to handle climate change, ignoring it is no longer an option.
Signed in 2016, the Paris Agreement created an international framework to combat climate change by establishing a long-term goal to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 C (3.6 F) above pre-industrial levels; and to push efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 C (2.7 F).
With most developed nations now pursuing ambitious climate change goals, companies worldwide are placing a strong emphasis on environmental responsibility. Pharma is no exception, with many major pharma manufacturers announcing programs to reduce their climate impact. And responsible pharma companies are looking for responsible partners.
“Pharma companies expect their service providers to act similarly in these fields. Oftentimes, this is also part of our customers’ overall decision matrix with whom to partner,” says Henryk Badack, senior vice president of Technical Services/Internal Project Management at Vetter Pharma-Fertigung.
But for the family owned global CDMO, climate protection is nothing new. The company, who recently moved into its new headquarters in Ravensburg, Germany, has made environmental responsibility a key part of its corporate agenda for years.
The company has taken decisive action to minimize its environmental impact while offering comprehensive development, aseptic filling, visual inspection and parental packaging services to clients around the world.
Now, as pharma looks for environmentally conscious partners, Vetter is finding itself well placed to help heal both patients and the earth.
Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas emitted through human activities and as such is one of the main drivers of global warming. In 2020, Vetter announced a big milestone: All of its German sites, including three GMP production plants, became carbon dioxide neutral.
Vetter relies on in-house cogeneration units as well as solar panels and geothermal energy, and all of Vetter’s European sites have been operating using green power from hydroelectric plants. The company says this has resulted in overall savings of over 4,500 tons of carbon dioxide since 2014. Over the past 10 years, Vetter has invested close to $8 million in more than 100 efficiency projects.
The company’s largest sustainability project is at its Center for Visual Inspection and Logistics in Ravensburg, Germany, which won an ISPE Facility of the Year Award in 2018 as a “Facility of the Future.” The site utilizes a sustainable energy concept specifically developed by in-house experts. This includes the operation of a modern, environmentally friendly block heating and power plant, the use of geothermal energy and the comprehensive use of excess energy, as well as powerful photovoltaic systems, all of which are combined in an energy-efficient manner.
It’s important to note that “carbon neutrality” does not mean that carbon emissions have been completely eliminated. In order for the pharma industry to manufacture drugs aseptically, emission-generating resources such as automated air circulation, water and electricity are an inevitable part of the process.
“As a reasonable consequence of strict, ever-increasing and absolute binding regulations by worldwide healthcare authorities, pharma production is resource-intensive,” says Badack.
Making sure patients have access to safe, high-quality drugs is always first and foremost.
“Such high standards make it impossible to entirely avoid residual emissions. That is why it is of even greater importance that we compensate for them in a sensible way. Wherever possible, we try to verify and realize options where we are able to harmonize regulatory requirements on the one side, with environmental-friendly usage of resources on the other,” says Badack.
The two-pronged approach of carbon neutrality involves a balance between in-house emission reduction measures and supporting external projects.
A common way of achieving this is through the purchase of carbon credits, which are essentially regulatory allowances for carbon emissions that can be bought and sold by companies. But it’s an imperfect system that’s not without criticism. As the global demand for carbon offsets grows, standards and best practices vary — which is why Vetter takes steps to make sure its investments go into genuine sustainable carbon reduction schemes.
“When doing so, we keep a strict eye on the purchase of carbon credits which support expansion measures for renewable energy projects. Therefore, we have defined concrete requirements, i.e. we only support measures which fulfil the following three criteria: First, direct and complete reference to the production of renewable energy such as wind, solar or biogas. Second, the measures are not older than 10 years. Third, the certificates must correspond with the standards of Kyoto Protocol, respectively the Paris Convention,” explains Badack.
Supply chain reaction
As most companies quickly realize, the most sustainable option is typically not the most affordable. When you consider that cost is a main driver behind a pharma company’s decision to outsource and their subsequent choice of a partner, how does a CDMO balance this? According to Vetter, it pays off in the long-run.
“Though there may be additional costs initially, it pays off by having a significant impact on a company’s reputation while helping fulfill its corporate citizenship. Sustainability also helps a company be more attractive to existing and prospective customers, partners and employees,“ Badack says.
And it’s a reaction felt throughout the supply chain. Customers choose to work with Vetter because they attach importance to partners that think and act similarly to them on core issues. In turn, Vetter expects the same from its suppliers and even verifies this through regular audits.
Ultimately, Thunberg’s sentiments ring true: Our house is on fire — and putting it out involves an ongoing and collective effort.
“This obligation is not just for today but perhaps more importantly, for future generations to come. In fact, the world belongs to each and every individual and, as such, we all have a role to play in its care and well-being,” says Badack.