The Indian pharma sector is a trendsetter in multiple ways on the global stage. It has often been the leader in areas, such as the manufacture of generic drugs, over-the-counter medications, bulk drugs, vaccines, contract research and manufacturing, biosimilars, and biologics. Therefore, it is no surprise that India supplies over 50 per cent of the global demand for various vaccinations, 40 per cent of the generic demand in the US, and 25 per cent of the total pharmaceuticals in the UK. Indian pharma is expected to touch the $65 billion mark by 2024. It is safe to say that the Indian pharma sector has a far-reaching economic and technological impact.
Sustainability is another key impact area for the pharma sector. It is both social and environmental in nature. The call for achieving ‘Net Zero’ emissions made during the COP26 and COP27 summits have evoked interest among industrial and manufacturing sectors towards the adoption of greener, environmentally friendly and sustainable practices. Given the massive scale and scope of the pharma sector in India and its impact globally, it can help tackle climate change.
Sustainability in Indian pharma today
Many leaders in the pharma sector believe that sustainability and profitability cannot be treated as mutually exclusive company goals.
Recently, the Securities & Exchange Board of India (SEBI) mandated listed companies (including pharma) to share details of the environmental, social and governance risk opportunities and strategies under the new business responsibility and sustainability report by this year. It has motivated several industries – including pharma – to re-examine their approach to sustainability.
The pharma sector, however, has been adopting environment and sustainability-oriented reporting well before the norms gained momentum and acceptance across other sectors. Almost 38 per cent of the pharma sector companies have been publishing dedicated sustainability reports since 2020.
Pharma production is known to be a power-intensive process. Unsurprisingly, several pharma companies have begun to create sustainability models that focus on renewable energy as compared to traditional power sources and existing grids. Companies have also begun to commit to reducing their carbon footprint, increasing water neutrality and reducing waste created during and after the manufacturing process.
Also, the packaging in which drugs and other medication are delivered to end-consumers is undergoing certain changes. There has been a reduction in bottle sizes, removal of fibre-based filters, reduction in the wall size of bottles, materials used to create pill blister packs and the use of thermoforming processes, instead of layered processes for pill blister packs. Most of these are oriented towards reducing the material consumption of the manufacturing process – sometimes, by almost 80 per cent.
A number of Indian pharma companies have begun to adopt digitalisation, cloud technologies and process automation to increase efficiency, ensure consistent quality and first-time-right manufacturing. These combined approaches are having a positive impact on reducing material wastage, thereby significantly bringing down emissions and effluent levels.
Approaches to accelerating sustainability
While the pharma sector has introduced sustainable practices, a few avenues and pathways can be explored to expedite environmental goals.
Foster environmental awareness and education: Educating employees, stakeholders and consumers about the importance of environmental sustainability in the pharmaceutical sector can drive behaviour change and create a culture of environmental responsibility. It will ensure a trickle-down effect of employees at every level understanding the importance of embracing sustainability across functions and areas of operations.
Engage in product life cycle assessment: Conducting thorough life cycle assessments of pharmaceutical products can help identify areas for improvement in terms of environmental impact and drive sustainable innovation. It could include the production input used in creating a particular drug, thereby identifying areas in the production chain where efficiencies can be increased without compromising on quality.
Embrace responsible waste management: Implementing proper waste management systems, including the safe disposal of hazardous materials and the promotion of recycling programmes, can help minimise environmental pollution. Pharma companies can explore ways to collaborate with India’s growing waste management solutions sector to create both micro- and macro-circular economies. Upcycled waste can act as a resource for other activities even if it cannot be directly used in the manufacture of other pharmaceuticals.
Promote green transportation: Encouraging the use of eco-friendly transportation options for logistics and distribution, such as electric vehicles or efficient routing systems, can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It can have a significant impact on sustainability spurred by the pharma sector as logistics and transportation play a major role in ensuring the products reach end-consumers across diverse geographies.