GlaxoSmithKline Outlines Its Sustainability Goals

Published on: 

PTSM: Pharmaceutical Technology Sourcing and Management

PTSM: Pharmaceutical Technology Sourcing and Management-05-02-2012, Volume 8, Issue 5

The company provides progress made in 2011 and future environmental objectives.

Last month, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) released its 2011 corporate social responsibility report, which included the company’s progress and goals for environmental improvement. The company estimates its carbon footprint across its value chain to be 14 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. It is implementing an environmental sustainability strategy across the value chain from raw materials to product disposal. The strategy focuses on carbon dioxide and other emissions that contribute to climate change, water use, waste reduction, and environmental stewardship. By 2050, the company is aiming to have a carbon-neutral value chain.

Some key achievements in 2011 were:

• Reduced greenhouse gas emissions from its facilities by 5.3%; its overall carbon dioxide impact rose slightly due to increased production volumes

• Reduced water use by 6.9% and waste sent to landfill by 25% with 30 sites now sending zero waste

• Developing a product carbon-footprint approach that will be used with individual products to identify carbon hotspots and measures to reduce them

• Continued to pilot a take-back scheme for used inhalers in the United States and United Kingdom to reduce waste and greenhouse-gas emissions

• Recycled its own waste polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic to make new Ribena bottles (Ribena is an uncarbonated soft drink by GSK)


• Received an “‘A” rating for performance and scored 93% on disclosure in the Carbon Disclosure Project assessment

• Had its first office building certified as gold under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) environmental-rating system

• Published a report, with partners, exploring the impact of climate change on health.

Measuring enviromental progress

In reducing its carbon-dioxide-equivalents from its facilities by 5.3% in 2011, GSK’s main focus has been on energy-efficiency activities, where it saw a 7.2% decrease in carbon-dioxode-equivalent emissions. This reduction has been offset by increases in its manufacturing and production volume. Production-related carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions increased 5.4%, and transport emissions increased 8.4%. The combined total reduction in facilities and transport emissions was 2.6%.

Combined heat and power (CHP) generation also is playing a growing role in decreasing the company’s carbon emissions. In 2011, GSK installed five CHP units, bringing the total to 16 operating units across 10 sites. For example, its manufacturing site in Irvine, Scotland, has reduced greenhouse-gas emissions by 12% during the past three years. The site makes the active ingredient for for the antibiotic Augmentin in an energy-intensive process, and the company aims to secure its energy supplies from renewable sources by installing wind power. The first turbine should be operating early in 2013, with two to follow subject to planning approvals. Together, they will deliver annual savings of 8000 metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalents.

The company also approved a £15 million ($24 million) project to convert waste to heat at its plant in Singapore, with estimated annual savings of 7700 metric tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalents from 2014. In 2011, the vaccine site at Sainte-Foy in Quebec supported renewable energy and energy reduction projects. Over the past four years, it has supported over 800 projects that have saved approximately 170,000 metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalents.

Also, its factories in India for Horlicks (a malted milk drink made by GSK) uses coal to generate energy, which creates approximately 72,000 metric tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions per year, or approximately 5% of the total for GSK’s operations. In 2011, sites began trials to switch from burning coal exclusively to blending it with waste biomass. The company tested several options, such as rice husk, pellets made from waste wood, sawdust, grain straw, cotton straw, and ground nut shells. If further trials in 2012 prove successful, GSK plans to blend up to 30% waste biomass at all three sites, thereby avoiding 19,800 metric tons of emissions per year. In the longer term, the company aims for 100% waste biomass for steam generation and investment in combined heat and power technology to generate its own electricity.

Other measures involved eliminating chlorofluorocarbon gases from its products (completed in 2010), which has substantially reduced inhaler emissions from 24 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalents in 1998 to less than five million metric tons. Although progressing in this field, the company notes that its replacement propellant is still a greenhouse gas and seeks to reduce this further by such means as supplying dry-powder inhalers where appropriate.

Building a water footprint

Unlike carbon emissions whose impacts are global, water use has local and global impacts and needs to take into account all users of a watershed as well as seasonality and water quality. GSK is active in the UN CEO Water Mandate, under which it cosponsors work to develop disclosure guidelines. These guidelines will help companies to measure andcommunicate performance more effectively. A eventual goal is to develop a water-footprint approach similar to the greenhouse-gas protocol.

On a company basis, GSK also continues site-level action to improve water use with a 6.9% reduction in 2011. The company has developed a “water kaizen” rapid improvement process to identify more efficient ways to use water. It piloted this approach at its Worthing and Maidenhead sites in England and identified potential savings of more than 25%. Examples of projects implemented include fitting aerators to taps, decommissioning redundant equipment, optimizing service water flows, and fitting trigger guns to water hoses. Both sites are investigating other opportunities identified in the kaizen process, such as whether high-grade wastewater from one part of the plant could be used elsewhere instead of using additional potable water in its supply chain.

Waste reduction

GSK’s total waste (hazardous and nonhazardous) fell by 1.2% and volumes to landfill were down by 25.5% in 2011. A total of 30 sites now send zero waste to landfill. Some examples of waste-reduction and reuse projects included using panelling from its refrigerated vaccines shipping packaging as insulation material for the construction industry. Reusing these materials reduces waste by 64 metric tons per year that previously went to landfill. Another innovation in 2011 led to its own waste PET plastic being used to make bottles for Ribena. Previously, waste contractors disposed of approximately 700 metric tons of PET packaging trays used to deliver components to GSK’s sites at Ware, UK, and Evreux, France. The material is being recycled to create new Ribena bottles saving approximately more than 3000 metric tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions per year. Other examples of reducing packaging waste in 2011 include converting from glass to plastic bottles for Horlicks, reducing packaging material on consumer healthcare products, and converting from blister packs to film wrapping for its nasal spray Flixotide. GSK estimates these measures will avoid more than 10,000 metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalents per year.

Other measures

In its sustainability report, GSK also noted certain practices to help meet its environmental profile. For example, a green packaging guide helps designers to avoid waste and choose the most sustainable option and includes sustainability-assessment tools covering energy and water use as well as the carbon footprint of packaging materials and transport. A carbon tracker collects data to monitor progress in the use of materials for its new pharmaceutical products. The average mass efficiency of the new primary processes transferred to manufacturing in 2011 was 2.2%, compared to its 2015 target of 2.5%. The company aims to increase the mass efficiency of products transferred to manufacturing to 3% by 2015 through measures such as solvent recovery.

In 2011, the company created a new R&D group working on second-generation product development to improve the sustainability profile of the R&D and manufacturingportfolio of projects through the product life cycle. GSK also continued its collaboration with the GSK-Singapore Partnership for Green and Sustainable Manufacturing. Its R&D groups have also worked with other industry partners to create a €20 million ($32 million) Sustainable Chemistry partnership with academia through the European Innovative Medicines Initiative, which begins work in 2012. GSK is also part of the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute Pharmaceutical Roundtable, where it collaborates with other pharmaceutical companies on green chemistry and engineering in the pharmaceutical industry.