Sustainability: a life sciences perspective

Driving sustainability in life sciences industry through digital technologies. By Anup Chakraborty, Somil Bharti and Mansha Dhingra

The need to implement sustainability in the life sciences industry has gained traction in recent times as the industry contributes significant amount of waste and greenhouse gases, apart from using huge volumes of water. There is also the need to rationalise high energy consumption and supply chain risks. Increased pricing regulations and need for access in low- and middle-income countries is yet another factor that is driving the importance toward building a sustainable healthcare eco-system.

Life sciences industry leaders clearly point towards the imperatives of sustainablity in business strategy. “Key to creating sustainable value and growth lies in partnering with multiple stakeholders ... We are more than ever committed to work in close collaboration with all global health actors to ensure medicines and diagnostics reach people who need them,” says Severin Schwan, CEO, Roche. "We are redoubling our efforts - increasing our investment in sustainability," says David A. Ricks, CEO, Eli Lilly. "Reviewed and rethought our corporate social responsibility strategy ... ‘new contract with society’ ... Embedded in Sanofi's long-term strategy, the company’s commitment is based on four essential pillars: access to medicines, support for vulnerable communities, preservation of the environment, and inclusion and diversity of its employees," says Paul Hudson, CEO, Sanofi. “Our teams design factories and look for more sustainable solutions to scientific problems,”says Sam Guhan, VP, Amgen. “We’re dedicated to minimising our environmental footprint because we recognise the connection between a healthy planet and human health,” says Ginny Cassidy, Director, Medtronic sustainability programme.

Current Trends, gap areas and future perspectives

As per a PWC study(1), 77% of the press releases from life sciences companies touched on social priorities. However, only 12% of companies reported on environmental priorities, highlighting significant opportunities to advance environmental measures and governance.

The life sciences industry is among the largest carbon emitters, as per a My Green Lab study(2). To address this concern most of the top companies are setting aggressive net-zero targets. However, the focus on Scope 3 emissions (indirect emissions from the value chain), waste reduction, and water stewardship can improve further.

Pharmaceutical production is highly water-intense necessitating innovations aimed at cutting water usage. A potential solution as per experts is continuous manufacturing. Amgen and Sanofi have successfully established digitally enabled continuous manufacturing facilities reaping sustainability benefits. Sanofi’s Framingham facilities achieved ~80% reduction in energy consumption and emissions; ~91% reduction in water footprint; ~94% reduction in use of chemicals and ~321 tons of waste reduction.

With regard to waste management only 9 out of 118 pharmaceuticals wastes are optimally  removed during the treatment process as per UNESCO study(3). This raises concerns of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), declared as a ‘major threat to public health’ by WHO(4).

On the other hand the rise of single use technology (SU) is expanding quantity of plastic waste. It is estimated that by 2025, biomanufacturers will produce ~112,000 tons/ year plastic waste

The circular economy principle is playing a key role in waste management. Novo Nordisk is rethinking its business model from linear ‘take-make-dispose’ to ‘circular for zero’ models to emphasise eco-designs and recycling. AstraZeneca has developed ‘eco-pharmacovigilance’, to track data on the environmental effects of its drugs for risk assessments. GSK is governing carbon, water and waste data via ‘Ecodesk’, a collaborative database available through a supplier exchange platform. Stryker and Baxter are forming partnerships with hospitals for recovery and reprocessing services of single use devices.

More encouraging responses are evident from life sciences industry in social aspects with focus on patient-centric business models and innovative therapies for critical diseases. Special focus is required to improve access and affordability in developing economies.

For instance, GSK, J&J, Merck, Novartis and Takeda are working on access strategies well-ahead when new drugs are still in mid-stage clinical development, with patent waivers or non-exclusive voluntary licensing. Similarly, Pfizer is working on innovative financial models –tiered pricing, microfinancing, sustainability bonds among others to enable greater affordability.

Prioritising research for neglected tropical diseases and democratisation of healthcare data are areas of focus across leading life sciences organisations. Danaher is addressing anaemia issues in Indian women through a nationwide initiative leveraging its HemoCue, point-of-care testing devices.

It is evident from the research that investment strategies in sustainability is becoming a key capital expenditure consideration. Pfizer and Teva issued sustainability bonds worth US$1.2 billion and US$4 billion respectively, to support environmental and social impact programmes. Similarly, Sanofi introduced sustainability-linked credit facilities around two sustainability initiatives - polio eradication and carbon footprint reduction.

Collaboration has been one of the most important enablers of sustainability. Many companies (such as Eli Lilly, AstraZeneca, Pfizer) are realising value from open innovation research driven by industryacademia collaboration.

Implications – digital technologies as key enablers

Processes across the value chain are rapidly being transformed and optimised through adoption of digital technologies. Partnership in artificial intelligence is gaining ground as observed at Bayer and Pfizer. For instance, Sumitomo Dainippon in partnership with AI start-up Exscientia discovered a drug within 12 months and at ~70% of previous cost.

Virtual twins and simulation technologies are being used to bring efficiencies in R&D and manufacturing. Novartis is reinventing manufacturing through ‘Insight Centres’ that harnesses emergent technologies like AI and IoT for quick decisions.

Blockchain is likely to play key role in securing and streamlining supply chain. FDA is working with partners for Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA). Focus is on - interoperability pilot, and aims to launch blockchain-enabled solutions to facilitate supply chain governance.

Fig.3. indicates a two-dimensional plot of key initiatives in life sciences and how they are likely to impact business and sustainable development. Alongside key technology enablers are identified.

Across initiatives we clearly observe that organisations are increasingly adopting technology that will make beneficial sustainable impacts aligned to business and stakeholder expectations.


Digital technologies will play a significant role in process transformation that will make beneficial sustainable impacts such as bringing R&D efficiency and reducing time-to-market, enabling patient centricity in clinical trials, bringing resiliency through continuous manufacturing and reducing counterfeit medicine through blockchain-enabled supply chain aligned to business and stakeholder expectations. Advancing collaboration between leading life sciences organisations and technology leaders will create a greater impact enhancing awareness, affordability, and accessibility of life-saving medicines and diagnostics for good health, wellness and greater social well-being.

Anup Chakraborty, Somil Bharti and Mansha Dhingra are with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS)


1. PwC, ESG for pharmaceuticals and life sciences companies, August 2021.

2. My Green Lab, Carbon impact of biotech and pharma, October 2021.

3. UNESCO, Pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment of the Baltic Sea region, 2017.

4. WHO, Antimicrobial Resistance, November 2021


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