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Will Biotech Contribute to a Sustainable Future?

Climate change and sustainability have been hotly discussed topics globally for some time, with studies indicating that 72% of respondents in the EU saying that they think the EU is not doing enough to combat climate change.

In the life sciences industry, biotech has been under the spotlight regarding sustainability, in part due to its potential to create more sustainable processes that use fewer polluting materials.

Though biotech has made strides with sustainability and wider ESG, there is still a lot that could be improved relating to transparency and consistency.

After all, if any industry is innovative enough to cultivate a sustainable future, it’s biotech.

Let’s take a look at how biotech is currently making efforts towards sustainability, and how it can contribute to a sustainable future.

Is sustainability a priority in biotech?

In life sciences, there have been strides towards creating a more sustainable future.

From reducing their carbon footprint to using sustainable materials in packaging and parts, biotech companies have been in the early stages of beginning to optimise their sustainability strategies and take action.

An example of this in healthcare is Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health investing over $800m over the next 10 years to improve the health of people and the planet.

By 2025, it expects to provide transparency for all its brands’ ingredients to inform consumer choice and use 100% recyclable packaging.

Supply chain issues were also rampant during the pandemic, which is an area expected to be tackled in the future.

For example, IPTherapeutics (IPT) is leading a clinical-stage biotech company that develops cell and gene therapies, and through a partnership with Olaf Logistics – an AI-enabled cold chain logistics company – now has end-to-end visibility across its supply chain.

This cold chain technology integrates real-time tracking software from packaging and storage to transportation and distribution – this provides complete visibility for a proactive approach.

Much of the approach to sustainability relies on digitalisation in biotech, but exactly how is (and how can) biotech contribute to a sustainable future?

Rethinking material production

Plastic pollution is undoubtedly one of the issues at the forefront of sustainability discussions.

Waste from plastic production plants and the widespread use of non-biodegradable plastic has been under particular scrutiny in biotech.

Commitments to sustainability are also leading, in many cases, to a biomaterial revolution – advances in biotech combined with high prices for oil and gas drove a rush of investments in biomaterials or more sustainable options.

Amsterdam-based business Avantium is in the process of developing methods to produce 100% recyclable bioplastics from agricultural and forestry waste as part of its efforts to use technological solutions to reduce plastic waste.

They aren’t the only business looking to make materials more sustainable, either – the likes of Carbios in France are using microbial enzymes to break down and recycle commonly used plastics (with the potential to break down more than 90% of the plastic PET).

Creating new options for biofuels

When many of us think of the biggest contributors to air pollution, we think of fossil fuels.

In the past, efforts towards producing biofuels in a less harmful fashion have been unsuccessful – such as the attempts to produce biofuels from crops, which can contribute to deforestation in the long-term – which has created an even greater necessity for sustainable alternatives.

US companies ExxonMobil and the Renewable Energy Group have partnered with Swiss biofuels company Clariant to make biodiesel from agricultural waste.

This can protect biodiversity and reduce the carbon footprint, and Clariant is committed to a 2030 sustainability strategy and science-based climate targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The hope for this collaboration is to combine technology to produce biodiesel (a biofuel that is a mix of ethanol and fat or cooking greases) in a way that doesn’t infringe on the food industry for arable land.

Given the previous issues with developing alternatives that are too time-consuming and tricky due to the converting process, this collaboration offers the potential for a single-step process that is efficient.

Alternatives to chemical fertilisers and pesticides

Crop fertilisers and pesticides contribute massively to environmental pollution.

The European Union has updated its rules on fertilisers – which almost exclusively covered mined or chemically produced materials – to include organic fertilisers in the EU market in 2022.

Bio-fertilisers are rising in popularity as traditional fertilisers (those extracted from mines or produced chemically) are falling out of favour due to the environmental and health concerns associated with them.

The use of microbes in fertilising to stimulate growth is also rising in popularity, such as Belgium-based Aphea.Bio, which has developed microbial strains that improve plant nutrient uptake and also strains that protect against disease.

Primarily, the sustainability goal is to provide an innovative and sustainable solution to reduce traditional fertiliser and pesticide use.

Changing the cosmetics industry

Sustainably sourced ingredients are slowly rising in popularity in the cosmetics industry.

Though ingredients that are plant-sourced may seem positive, the process of producing these cosmetic items is detrimental to the environment.

Biosynthetic (aka ‘lab-grown actives’) are 100% naturally derived and have zero environmental impact, which is one area that biotech is revolutionising in cosmetics.

The global natural cosmetics market is expected to be worth around $48.04bn by 2025, which makes finding the best sustainable option essential.

Swiss fragrance company Givaudan, for example, has created Ambrofix, a biodegradable amber and woody scent molecule made from fermenting sugar cane.

Lab-made molecules also have the benefit of being more sustainable and more effective, as they can be manipulated to work in a specific way (unlike natural ingredients).

Get in touch

Biotech is ideally situated to tackle sustainability in an innovative, efficient, and streamlined way.

With so many facets of sustainability to tackle, progress may seem slow, yet biotech businesses are making huge strides to reduce waste, make materials more sustainable, and provide alternatives that are positively contributing to environmental efforts.

For biotechs looking to make a positive contribution, the possibilities are endless – it’s time to make a positive impact globally and set a standard.

To find out more about the trends impacting the life sciences industry, or for expert advice on securing top talent for your life sciences company, get in touch with the Panda team today.