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How Is the Life Sciences Sector Tackling Sustainability?

12 March 2021

By Jay Freeman

How Is the Life Sciences Sector Tackling Sustainability?

Discussions around sustainability have increased in recent years, and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has introduced a renewed focus on adopting more sustainable practices for the future in the life sciences sector.

With the emission intensity of the pharmaceutical industry alone being 55% higher than the automotive’s, people are undoubtedly looking at how the life sciences sector intends to tackle sustainability, but also are considering the benefits of a more sustainable approach to business.

What defines a sustainable operation for a business?

Though the life sciences sector is heavily regulated, there is a greater emphasis on expanding these regulations towards wider initiatives, including mandatory environmental risk assessments and a push towards carbon neutrality.

In the UK for example, the NHS makes up 5% of all greenhouse gas emissions, with medical devices and pharmaceuticals accounting for 25% of the total health and social care footprint – meaning the net zero emissions legislation passed in 2019 with a target of zero emissions by 2050 puts the life sciences sector in a pivotal role.

There are a multitude of obstacles that the life sciences sector face in their journey towards sustainability.

So, how are businesses adopting sustainable practices, and are they truly driving more ethical practices?

The challenges of supply chains

In both the life sciences and pharmaceuticals industries, the issue of emission-intensity is consistently at the forefront.

Attempts to reduce delivery emissions and produce equipment faster (therefore reducing the chance of equipment shortages) have produced sustainable machines such as Automedi’s ‘FabLab’, an on-site machine making and assembling healthcare equipment at the point-of-care.

Fleet support is also available through a cloud-based fleet management platform, supported by a management team that can deliver consumables and hardware upgrades and recycle surplus materials – meaning the only emissions required are in the initial delivery, which Automedi are seeking electrical vehicles for in the future.

On-site energy efficiency

Though much of the focus on sustainability tends to be on supply chains, there is a lot of untapped potential in the way sustainability can be integrated, such as through energy efficiency.

California-based health system Kaiser Permanente became the first health system in the US to reach carbon neutrality in 2020 by focusing on the energy efficiency in its buildings, utilising on-site solar power and making more long-term purchases of renewable energy options.

This type of integrated approach has also led to reductions in waste and water use, and 100% sustainable or local food consumption, with Kaiser Permanente planning to reduce carbon emissions in its supply chain in future.

The problem with metrics

Even within a single organisation, there are different metrics that can be used to measure sustainability efforts – posing a unique problem for the life sciences industry in truly assessing the impact of their efforts.

Greenhouse gas emissions are often prioritised over social and economic value such as responsible innovation, access and affordability, and economic wellbeing parameters. 

This is why it is essential to consider the multiple dimensions of sustainability when measuring the success of their approach.

Social responsibility

Recognised as the most sustainable company in the Pharmaceuticals index of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI), Roche has achieved continuous progress in social responsibility by developing and improving its healthcare provision.

Interestingly, Roche has emphasised the role of partnering with stakeholders in generating value for society, through constructive dialogue.

This embedded approach is fully integrated into the company’s business and culture – making it continually committed to maintaining sustainability in the present and the future.

Responsible innovation

Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health is investing $800 million over the next ten years to improve the health of people and the planet by being more transparent about the ingredients used in its brands, also hoping to use 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable plastic packaging.

It’s an aspect that can go overlooked, but the shift towards more environmental responsibility when sourcing ingredients can have huge value for the population as it has a knock-on effect on the sustainability of the supply chain.

The value of sustainable businesses

The above examples demonstrate the importance of sustainable practice in the life sciences sector, helping it to embrace change, but what are the other benefits?

Increased trust

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in the pharmaceutical sector increased to 73% in spring 2020 (up from 59% in 2019). However, this increased level of trust was only likely to remain if companies have a sustained commitment to the greater good.

When it comes to attracting both clients and candidates, this is an important factor to note, as it isn’t just the perception of efforts towards sustainability, but the continued push for change that can make the difference.


By 2025, the millennial generation will make up roughly 75% of the workforce, citing more motivation for the societal significance of their work thantraditional monetary incentives

Having a strongly emphasised corporate social responsibility (CSR) is likely to attract these types of candidates.

Deloitte cites CSR strategy as a critical competitive advantage, which may make a difference when trying to attract the best candidates and people for your organisation.

Key takeaway

The push for sustainability in the life sciences sector isn’t going away any time soon.

By ensuring the benchmarks for sustainability are consistent and maintained, with a priority on meaningful change, organisations can truly commit to initiatives that reduce the impact of the life science sector’s activities and products on the environment.

At Panda International, we believe that embracing change and continuously innovating with the needs of the life sciences sector helps us to deliver the best possible client, candidate and employee experience.

If you’d like to discuss more about the challenges that organisations in the life sciences sector face, get in touch with our experts today.

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