Healthy Planet, Healthy People: How Pharma Can Lead the Way

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-10-01-2022, Volume 42, Issue 10

Reaching new heights in sustainability a win-win for industry.

Society’s expectations of what it means to be a sustainable business are evolving, and the pandemic has only accelerated demand for private-sector solutions. This is particularly important for the pharmaceutical industry because there exists an inextricable link between health outcomes and the environment; to have healthy people we need to have a healthy planet.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, published in August 2021, provided the starkest warning yet about the impact of climate change on lives and livelihoods. The message is clear: climate change is resulting in poorer health outcomes and increasing mortality, with the greatest impact being on people who are already living with chronic diseases.

And while many think about the pharmaceutical industry’s role as reactionary—treating with medicines—industry leaders have a responsibility to be proactive, finding ways to minimize environmental impact and prevent the associated health challenges. Progress has been made, but there is still much work to do.

Planning for circular use

The reality of our industry is that while many products provide life-saving solutions for patients, it also has an impact on the environment. Whether it is medical-waste plastic ending up in landfills, the water required for manufacturing, or the greenhouse gases emitted for transport, the entire ecosystem—from production to disposal—has opportunity for more purposeful, environmentally conscious planning.

Consider, for example, recycling programs for used plastic devices. At Novo Nordisk, we have found a solution through an innovative TakeBack program that allows patients to return insulin devices. We have also changed much of our transportation packaging to an eco-friendly, insulated container called Biocooler®, which will compost in almost all environments. This also helps reduce the need for refrigeration on long-haul transports.

But it’s not just about what the pharmaceutical companies ourselves do, we must also make purposeful decisions about our vendors and suppliers. Setting requirements for ourselves will certainly ensure progress, but choosing to partner with companies that prioritize sustainability will enhance and accelerate our impact.

Innovating for impact

There also exists an opportunity for tapping into research and development to create innovations where we integrate sustainability in all we do to solve for environmental challenges, while also providing a better patient experience. While most leaders have prioritized a culture of innovation with patient centricity, it is imperative that sustainability be a driving force in the company’s culture. We must think about innovating for patients—and the environment—in every step we take.

Let’s take another look at insulin. It is not just about identifying ways to reuse and recycle the plastic pens once used, but about reducing what patients need to use in the first place. At Novo Nordisk, our product pipeline includes a long-lasting basal insulin analogue intended for once-weekly dosing, potentially reducing the overall number of plastic pens required. Innovations can also help make the insulin itself more resistant to temperature changes so refrigeration during transportation is not required.

Partnering for progress

At Novo Nordisk, we take our responsibility to people and the planet seriously, and our goal is to reach net zero CO2 by 2045 through our Circular for Zero strategy. But we know this work is too important for us to do alone. No single program will be the answer. Together with partners at public agencies and private organizations, we will have a significant impact over time.

We need to share knowledge and work together to set up a system that allows for scale and the development of infrastructure for global initiatives. And our work should be documented and tracked to help us hold one another accountable and collaborate on new opportunities. Achieving these measures will not just help our environment; we will be working toward our shared, most important goal—saving lives.

Katrine DiBona, Corporate Vice President, Global Public Affairs and Sustainability, Novo Nordisk