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Reaffirming commitment to sustainability

As the pharma sector battles the COVID-19 pandemic and goes through a reset to defend the world against such crises in future, it needs to pledge allegiance to sustainability to ensure global welfare

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Sustainability as a concept was gaining good traction across industries, globally and in India, before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Be it reducing energy consumption or emission of greenhouse gases to curb environmental pollution, improving waste management or optimising water consumption, the pharma industry was identifying and implementing various measures to become more sustainable. Many companies were actively seeking to enhance their impact on the environment and society.

But, the focus of the world has shifted towards fighting the pandemic. For the pharma industry, in particular, identifying and developing new tests, medicines and vaccines at the earliest to fight COVID-19, while ensuring that the production and supply of other medicines remain unhampered, is the current priority. How has this affected sustainability agendas? Have they taken a back seat in this scenario? Let’s examine.

The COVID-19 impact

A GlobalData report had anticipated last year, “Sustainability was the buzzword of 2019 and would have continued to increase in prominence in 2020. However, the global outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) will bring progress to a halt.”

This year, in another report, GlobalData highlighted, “Sustainability has been a big trend in the past few years and many companies in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region have switched to more eco-friendly alternatives, such as replacing plastic materials and removing single-use packaging. However, since the outbreak of coronavirus, companies may resort to plastic packaging to combat the spread of the pandemic putting the sustainability aspect in the back seat.”

Arvind Sharma, Partner, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co also states, “The present unprecedented situation since early 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, has impacted the commitment towards the 17 SDGs. The process of achieving the 17 SDGs has slowed down and the approach towards these goals has weakened. There has also been a shift in the course of development.”

He highlights, “Inequalities are increasing now more than ever before, and this threatens the overarching aim of SDGs, that is, ‘leave no one behind’. Additionally, COVID-19 has largely impacted global economies, making financing for sustainability even more difficult. It was theorised in early 2020 that there is an apparent risk that COVID-19 will adversely affect the achievement of SDGs. The UN, World Bank and other international organisations warned that even the limited progres