Tracking a Company’s Sustainability Journey in Pharma Industry Part 1

March 06, 2018

By: Chris Lee LEED AP, Architectural Designer
JacobsWyper Architects

Sustainability means different things to difference industries and for the pharma industry the most pressing issues have been green chemistry, energy and water reduction, waste management, and the high embodied energy associated with their product’s lifecycle. Many companies have been addressing these issues with success and reporting on them in annual sustainability reports and other external communication to show the market, and their consumers that they are committed to sustainability. Each year RobecoSAM, a Sustainability Investing firm, conducts their annual Corporate Sustainability Assessment (CSA) which evaluates companies’ sustainability practices by asking them a series of questions related to economic, environmental, and social factors that are key to their company’s performance. [1,2] Of the 13 pharmaceutical companies recognized in this year’s CSA 2018 Sustainability Yearbook, two companies archived Gold Class, four achieved Silver Class, two Bronze Class, and four where noted as year book members. [3] This recognition shows that pharma companies are positioning themselves as sustainability leaders in the global market and that many companies are integrating sustainability into their business practices.

JacobsWyper Architect's new academic building for Swarthmore College
JacobsWyper Architect's new academic building for Swarthmore College is a carbon neutral facility with sustainability features that benefit the surrounding landscape.  Photo credit: Charles Uniatowski Photography)

From a lot of perspectives climate change, is a business risk. Natural disasters are becoming more frequent, human health is being affect by poor air and water quality, our infrastructure isn’t what it used to be, and a major city of 4 million people is set to run out of water by mid-April this year 2018 (Cape Town, South Africa). It can affect supply chains, impact availability of product resources, and even your ability to manufacturer (Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico 2017). But is reducing and minimizing enough? Should we be aiming for a percentage better than the baseline, or should we set the bar at the ideal solution and seeing how close we can get? Manufacturers should consider the potential effects of climate change and what impacts it could have on their long-term and short-term business goals, and what steps they can take now to position themselves for future success. It may mean reusing or collecting water on site to reduce reliance on city or municipal provided water sources or working to achieve zero waste to landfill at one or all your production facilities. It could be moving away from fossil fuel energy sources and entering into a Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) to source your facility or company’s energy needs from renewable energy source as Walmart, Microsoft, and Google already have. PPAs can also have the added benefits of creating new renewable energy infrastructure, hedging against the cost of fossil fuels, and potential cost savings in the long run. [4]

So, what can companies do to integrate sustainability into their manufacturing and business practices, where is a good place to start? To borrow a phrase from the late American composer John Cage, “begin anywhere,” a company’s sustainability journey doesn’t have to be linear. It could start with a single initiative related to your supply chain or a series of initiative at one of your manufacturing facilities, the important thing is to begin. With sustainability frameworks and tools like LEED v4, the Living Building Challenge, the Well Building Standard, and Life-Cycle Assessments there are a number of avenues companies can explore to meet their company’s sustainability goals.

  • With that what do you see as the most important sustainability issues for the pharmaceutical industry in 2018?
  • Where are the opportunities and where are the challenges? 



(3) RobecoSAM Sustainability Yearbook 2018
(4) Accelerate Your Energy Strategy with Power Purchase Agreements; Renewable Choice Energy