By Rich Quelch, Global Head of Marketing, Origin
Climate change is perhaps the most complex issue facing
modern society, affecting every aspect of human life including our health.
a Lancet report, spending on climate
change adaption is falling way short of the $100 billion a year commitment made
under the Paris Agreement. And of this spending, less than 4 percent is
channelled into health despite climate change threatening to undermine the last
It’s true, there will be beneficial health impacts from
milder winters which could help to reduce the winter-time peak in deaths. Hotter
than average summers could also help to limit disease-transmitting mosquito
populations, for example.
However, scientists agree that most impacts will be adverse,
with some declaring a public health emergency…
The effect of climate change on health
There are many health implications of climate change, but
many are still little understood.
This lack of understanding is fuelling under preparedness,
with the effects becoming magnified in specific regions such as Africa, where
more than half of nations fail to meet core requirements set by International
Small changes in temperature and precipitation are already
increasing the transmission of vector and water-borne diseases like malaria,
dengue fever and cholera. We can also expect an increase in tick vectors such
as Lyme disease, flea vectors which carry diseases such as the plague, and fly
vectors which can transmit leishmaniasis.
As accelerators of global warming, many air pollutants such
as methane, black carbon and sulphate aerosols are contributing to what experts
are calling “a silent public health emergency”, resulting in an increasing
number of recorded respiratory illnesses and early deaths.
What’s more, aeroallergens are on the rise due to climatic
change, such as mould spores indoors and pollen spores during spring and summer,
which could mean respiratory conditions like asthma become more common.
Extreme weather events, such as droughts, typhoons,
hurricanes and snowstorms are also putting food supply at risk and increasing
the prevalence of malnutrition and starvation, affecting people’s ability to
fight off and recover from a range of illnesses. The effects are already being
felt across Asia, South America and Africa in regions which have historically
suffered from low incomes, poor sanitation and food shortages.
Even for those living in less-affected areas, the uncertainty
of the Earth’s future is likely to have an adverse effect on millions of
people’s mental wellbeing. So much so, the term
“eco-anxiety” has been coined by doctors to describe
a new psychological disorder where people worry (to an extreme) about the
In the words of the young climate change activist Greta
Thunberg, “I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want
you to panic”.
Pharma is both part of the problem and the solution
Pharma, as one of the largest global industries, is both part
of the problem and the solution when it comes to minimising the adverse effects
of climate change.
In fact, the pharmaceutical sector is far from green. A first-of-its-kind
study by environmental engineers at The University of
Ontario, found the pharmaceutical industry is significantly more
emission-intensive (13 percent more) than the automotive industry despite the
sector being 28 percent smaller.
It’s not an overstatement to say that a level of opacity still
exists in big pharma which can make it difficult to see the collective impact
of the pharmaceutical supply chain on the environment.
However, there are many trailblazers in the industry who are
leading the way in changing the status quo and creating a more sustainable
pharma supply chain.
There are multiple ways pharma can help reduce their carbon
footprint and work towards an end goal of carbon neutrality.
Let’s focus on pharmaceutical waste continues to be a huge
problem. To eliminate non-biodegradable and single-use plastics from the supply
chain, more research is taking place around bio-based PET. It’s made from
ethylene derived from sugarcane which has a negative carbon footprint, using
CO2 and releasing oxygen when cultivated.
Researchers are now testing pioneering technology which
converts PET waste back into virgin grade material to be used again. Cutting
edge manufacturing methods like 3D visualisation and printing are also helping
to reduce waste by eliminating the need for multiple prototype designs.
with a hybrid partner, pharma companies can design or redesign their product’s
primary and secondary packaging to support compliance and make it easier (and
cheaper) to transport, while simultaneously reducing the amount of materials
used overall or facilitate a switch to more eco-friendly alternatives. A
virtuous circle if you will.
These cost-saving and efficiency gains
will help the industry fulfill its social responsibilities, including the need
to both pioneer more sustainable manufacturing processes and produce more
effective and safer medicines the entire world can afford.
Keeping supply chains moving is key
benefits aside, there are huge social impacts and environmental benefits of
creating a more efficient pharma supply chain and as the importance of these
issues grow, these benefits will only increase. Now, more than ever,
environmental management is key.
A pharmaceutical supply chain that’s fit
for purpose today and tomorrow is one
that’s not just reactive, but proactive. It will anticipate and accommodate
current and future trends, driving forces and challenges presented by
the climate crisis.
Whether it be a fast-developing public health emergency
caused by an extreme weather event, or a slow but steady increase in
respiratory diseases from worsening air population levels in urban populations,
the pharma industry needs to have the agility to respond quickly and support
the effective functioning of healthcare systems.
The pharma and biotech industries are no stranger to the
chaos caused by extreme weather on their research and manufacturing
capabilities. In 2017, Pfizer’s
manufacturing facilities in Puerto Rico were
wiped out during a devastating hurricane season, resulting in a loss of an
estimated $195 million in inventory.
Investment in sites’ resilience is key to preparing for
extreme weather in advance and patching vulnerabilities which could close
plants, such as flood barricades, emergency power generators, and keeping
critical digital infrastructure on higher floors.
Governments and regulators may start to enact policies to
force big pharma companies to geographically diversify the locations of their
production facilities, particularly for products that are lifesaving and have
no substitutes, as well as carry heavy inventory to protect against supply
Keeping global supply chains moving in the aftermath of a
large-scale climate event is also vital.
To facilitate the new pharmaceutical
landscape, a fresh and agile approach is needed, one which leans towards an
all-in-one solution which isn’t restricted to one manufacturing location or
field of expertise.
Teams on the ground need to be capable
of creating any solution, to any problem, anytime, and anywhere. However, at
the moment, it’s common for multiple teams to be managing multiple
international supplier sites.
Consolidating the supply chain under one
roof brings a large range of benefits including, but not limited to: reduced
risks and overheads, greater innovation, assurance of supply and compliance,
tighter quality control and local availability via regional distribution sites
on a global scale.