Sustainability Outside the Box

Drugmakers and packagers are pursuing various initiatives to reduce their carbon footprints. This article contains bonus material.
Oct 02, 2011
Volume 35, Issue 10

Hallie Forcinio
For pharmaceutical manufacturers, green packaging is just one facet of sustainability. Companies such as Merck, Pfizer, and Glaxo-SmithKline (GSK) take the big-picture view of sustainability and consider not only packaging, but also greenhouse-gas emissions, energy consumption, water use, waste, safety, health and wellness, and social and ethical responsibilities.

Companies' goals are ambitious; GSK, for example, intends to be carbon-neutral by 2050. Its interim goals include a 10% reduction of carbon emissions by 2015 and a 25% reduction by 2025. GSK also has goals for reducing water use and landfilled waste.

Merck and GSK rely on solar power to satisfy some of their energy needs. This energy source's positive effect on carbon footprint can be significant; With solar power supplying roughly 10% of the energy needs of two New Jersey facilities, Merck predicts it will reduce its annual carbon-dioxide emissions by 2500 tons, which is the equivalent of taking 400 cars off the road.

Increasingly, drugmakers and other consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies are setting sustainability standards for suppliers to follow. GSK expects 90% of its paper packaging to be derived from sustainable sources by 2020 and has begun to measure supplier performance.

Demands for sustainable packaging come from all directions. It appeals to consumers and retailers, such as Walmart. Shareholder advocacy groups like As You Sow are demanding that CPG companies shift to green packaging. On the legislative front, interest is growing in adopting an extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme under which manufacturers assume the expense and oversee the logistics related to packaging disposal. In Europe, where EPR requirements have been in place for many years, the lighter and more renewable the packaging material, the lower the costs associated with postconsumer collection, sorting, and recycling.

Figure 1: Sustainable packaging efforts include design for recyclability or recycled content, lightweighting, renewable or biobased materials, and compostable materials.
The global market for sustainable packaging is worth an estimated $107.7 billion in 2011. Rising demand from all stakeholders is expected to help the market grow steadily through 2021 (1).

To increase sustainability, designers incorporate recycled content or renewable materials and practice source reduction, a strategy that minimizes or eliminates packaging and almost always cuts material and transportation costs. Recycled content diverts waste from landfills and provides a market for recycled materials. Plant-based renewable materials reduce reliance on finite resources such as oil. All three tactics lower greenhouse-gas emissions and reduce carbon footprint.

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