Sustainability in the pharmaceutical industry


Sustainability is at the heart of the pharmaceutical industry’s day-to-day operations, with many skilled individuals working in sustainability roles.  We are starting to see initiatives from companies all across the world, from investment in renewables, to low-carbon inhalers, to net zero buildings, and some examples are featured here, demonstrating their commitment to tackling the challenges in building a greener pharmaceutical industry in the UK.

We’re working with Government, NHS and other partners to drive forward progress, and as a global industry with global supply chains, our members are acting in partnership with other regions to create lasting change.

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Supporting the era of green pharmaceuticals in the UK

To overcome the challenges and accelerate progress on carbon reduction and other sustainability goals, the pharmaceutical industry needs to engage in partnerships with the NHS and UK government, in addition to the need for more cross-industry collaboration. There are a number of high-priority activities that the NHS, UK government and industry should undertake to tackle these challenges.

Green careers in the pharmaceutical industry

Hello, my name is Brian Henry, I work for Pfizer in pharmaceutical sciences and I've been in the industry for about 30 years now. Pharmaceutical Sciences is actually a very exciting department sits right in the middle of the research, development and commercialization processes and of developing new medicines, has a critical role really has three functions. First of all, we work with the discovery chemists and biologists to select the right molecule, we then have to figure out how to make the material for phase one, phase two, and phase three clinical trials. And finally, we need to transfer that manufacturing knowledge to the commercial manufacturing groups all over the world. This is actually a technically very challenging job, because we need to figure out how to scale up the manufacturing process and that is very, very tough. As we start from phase one, we may be making a few kilos, a few thousands of tablets, right through to phase three, where we're making tonnes of material and millions of tablets to be used in trials all over the world. Now as we go through that process, we need to develop safe processes safe for the operators and technicians and scientists in the manufacturing areas, and also safe for the environment. And also each tablet needs to be at the highest quality we can make. Now we actually have a critical role in reducing the environmental impact of the medicines we make. About 70 to 80% of the carbon footprint sits in the manufacturing process and as the designers and inventors of those manufacturing process says the decisions we make will live with that product for the rest of its useful life as a medicine. So it's very, very important that we do our best reduce the environmental impact and make more sustainable medicines going forward. As an example of what we're trying to do here to make more sustainable manufacturing processes, we're trying to move away from a very large massive stainless steel chemistry vessels that we use to synthesise materials and move towards a flow chemistry approach, which not only allows us much better control and much better quality of the manufacturing process but also reduces the amount of solvent we waste and also the amount of energy we use in making those new medicines. So if you're passionate about global health issues, you are passionate about climate change if you want to come and work in a global team environment, to develop new medicines then you should consider a career in pharmaceutical sciences where we really need highly creative technicians, scientists and engineers to come and work with us to try and design his new manufacturer more sustainable manufacturing processes going forward.

Brian Henry, Global Head of Drug Product Design, Pfizer talks about the sustainability aspect of his role.

About 70 to 80% of the carbon footprint sits in the manufacturing process and as the designers and inventors of those manufacturing process says the decisions we make will live with that product for the rest of its useful life as a medicine. So it's very, very important that we do our best reduce the environmental impact and make more sustainable medicines Brian Henry, Global Head of Drug Product Design, Pfizer

Hi, my name is Emily Winkworth and I work as part of Pfizer, UK's Environment, Health and Safety team.

My role is environmental advisor, since Pfizer announced its ambition to go Net Zero.

A large part of my role has been educating both our UK and our regional colleagues on

what Net Zero actually means and what we have to do to get there by 2040.

My role specifically involves both internal and external carbon emission reporting.

That includes the requirement to drive down emissions as much as possible to help reduce the effects of climate change.

To do this, I work closely with many different teams across the business, such as the UK engineering team, the global health and social impact team, our global environmental health and safety team, as well as many interested colleagues from across all departments, who make our UK colleagues sustainability team.

So for me, no two days in the same, I can be working on our UK emission strategy or running environmental sustainability awareness
sessions for colleagues.

Most days do involve a certain amount of data analysis or report writing for either internal or external reporting.

I really love that I get to spend a large amount of my time working collaboratively

with others, whether that's people within our environment, health and safety team or other folks across the business.

I've been in my current role for just under two years now.

I graduated in the pandemic from the University of Sussex with a first class degree in geography, and I applied for this role shortly after that.

During my first year as environmental advisor, I studied part time towards the IEMA certificate

and environmental management, which I passed, meaning that I now hold practitioner level IEMA certification and are now looking at which development opportunity I want to take next to further my knowledge even more.

So one piece of advice I would give to someone seeking a career in the pharmaceutical industry would be to try and get as much practical experience as possible.

I opted to do a placement year as part of my university degree course, which I successfully completed within Pfizer's Environmental Health and Safety Team.

This really was invaluable experience which provided the foundation that I needed to complete my final year at university knowing which sector I wanted to go into after.

Before my placement year I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduating.

This was completely down to the wide range of opportunities that I was offered and that I got involved with during my placement year.

Emily Winkworth, Environment Advisor, Pfizer, talks about the sustainability aspect of her role.

Hi, my name is Steph and I work for Pfizer.
I work as an omni channel manager here at Pfizer, in the vaccines team specifically focused on the UK.
On the side of that, I also have a role in our sustainability steering group.

That group is aiming to build our UK sustainability strategy, focusing on decarbonisation, and also on engaging our colleagues in how we can build a more sustainable business.

So some of the work I've been working on has been integrating and introducing some workshops to engage our colleagues on sustainability.
We've used partner called Today do this, which are action based workshops and we've had lots of success with engaging colleagues in building a more sustainable mindset through this initiative.

So my day is different every day.
But I'd say like per week, as part of my sustainability role, at least, we have at least a couple of meetings a week to decide with different people from our environment, health and safety function, some from our commercial function, some from our training function, and also meetings with our country President to talk about this topic because it's extremely important to the business.

And when we have these discussions about different things that are happening, the external environment what's going on with the NHS, what's going on in Pfizer Global with the best at strategy as well, and then we basically decide on actions and those meetings to take.

Some of these actions might be involving external partners.

So then I'll reach out to external partners and start projects with them.

For example, our Today do this partnership.
We also have partnerships with One Young World and we'll be starting a new set of workshops as well with another partner called Forum for the future.

So we're working lots of different really cool people who are all helping us to shape our sustainability strategy and also get colleagues involved empower them to make change in the organisation to build a sustainable mindset.

There are so many different roles out there and the pharma industry has so many different options that once you start to understand some of the industry and you can see some of those options that are available to you.

You could actually go out and pursue them and you can kind of build your own career.
It's a bit like building Lego bricks, you can just add different bits on and you can jump somewhere else get some different experience.

You can get involved in a lot of projects get involved with something completely different to what your background might be.

My background is in biomedical sciences, and I'm now moving into more sustainable development and international global health initiatives.

So there's so much exposure and interesting things to discover in the pharma industry.

Steph Barnes, Sustainability Strategy, Pfizer, talks about the sustainability aspect of her role.

Hi, I'm Alison Eldridge, and I'm the environmental undergraduate at Pfizer. So I'm currently studying environmental geography with placement year, at the University of York and I've been in my current role for around eight weeks, so I'm pretty new to the industry.

My role as part of the EHS team, so I sit within environmental health and safety involves helping Pfizer meet their environmental targets. So this can either be through SECR, streamlined energy carbon reporting, or other carbon reduction strategies. In addition to this, I also work on coming up with kind of sustainable, innovative ideas to help their impact and emissions and ultimately reach our goal of being net zero by 2040.

The majority of my work is carried out within a team so with my EHS team, and I feel like this really helps us achieve the best outcome is it creates a space that we can learn from each other, because someone may say something that you have not quite thought about before, which is really great.

So the one piece of advice I would give to someone who's interested in seeking out a career in the pharmaceutical industry, from a student's perspective is to just go out there and try and get some experience. So this could either be through talking to someone who works in the industry, or even going onto LinkedIn and contacting someone through there, say you're interested in a specific role, setting them up kind of dropping the message and kind of learning through them. Other opportunities, for students, include internships, or even volunteering, so emailing, like the careers department being like, "I would love some work experience. Is there any opportunity?" Because you never know. So this will offer great insight into the pharmaceutical world of work. And personally, from my experience, it's been amazing so far, I've been given so many opportunities to get involved with a load of different projects, working with different teams and different departments across a lot of fields. And I'm just, there's so many opportunities I would definitely recommend working in this industry as you really feel like you're making a difference and helping people no matter the role, so I obviously do not sit within developing drugs or with the vaccines but I did not but I still feel like I'm have a purpose which is exactly what you want out of career.

Alice Eldridge, Environmental Undergraduate, Pfizer, talks about the sustainability aspect of her role.