Green Solutions for Cold Chains

Pharma IQ

As the world's focus shifts towards reducing carbon emissions, the pharmaceutical industry finds itself facing a dilemma in maintaining strict safety standards while improving its environmental credentials.

One of the key areas where this must be met head on is in the energy intensive field of temperature controlled distribution, where a breach in the cold chain could severely reduce the efficacy of a drug and as such have a negative effect on patient health.

Speaking to Next Generation Pharmaceuticals, Richard Harrop, commercial and technical manager of SCA Cool Logistics, said: "Environmental accountability is already bringing considerations regarding recyclability, carbon emissions and energy cost. Cold chain is one part that can be re-evaluated from a green standpoint."

Packaging solutions

As Harrop explained, there are already a number of greener solutions on the market which allow companies to reduce the carbon footprint of their cold chain.

Biodegradable and recyclable packaging materials are increasingly being looked at to provide more environmentally friendly solutions, which do not compromise on the safety of the products.

GREENBOX was one example provided by Harrop, which is made from 100 percent recyclable materials and can be reused, meaning fewer boxes have to be produced, cutting the amount of carbon produced by manufacturing processes.

Reducing the overall size and weight of the packaging is also been seen as a way of making cold chains greener, while reducing transport costs.

"Blister packages, for example, are shipped as fully loaded packages, ready for immediate distribution by pharmacists. Additionally, from a structural design perspective, they can be stacked, stored, and shipped more efficiently than standard amber vials," Dr. Ted Lithgow, president, MWV Healthcare, writing for Healthcare Packaging, explained.

Suppliers to major pharmaceutical firms should also take note of this trend. The Carbon Disclosure Project supply chain report released last year revealed suppliers are increasingly being expected to demonstrate their environmental credentials.

Implementing greener cold chain solutions

According to Harrop, "green solutions already exist, but what must be considered is how they are implemented."

Key questions he highlighted were if suitable facilities were available to successfully break down biodegradable packaging and the distance a reusable container may need to travel before it can be refilled.

Addressing these issues was the focus of a recent collaboration between McKesson Corporation, which supplies a third of the drugs used in pharmacies and hospitals in the United States, and IBM, which looked at cutting the carbon emissions and costs associated with drug distribution.

McKesson used IBM's Supply Chain Sustainability Management Solution (SCSM) to improve its decision making with regard to distribution network modelling, the location of industry and the route the supply chain takes.

The SCSM system is capable of evaluating a site based on its CO2 emissions and the costs related to warehousing and transportation, to boost both the financial and environmentally sustainability of operations.

One example given by the companies looked at the advantages of keeping all drugs which require temperature controlled storage in a single central location, rather than being spread out across a number of its facilities. The system is also able to advise on the best way to deliver products to the customer to reduce McKesson's carbon footprint, for example by missing out a central warehouse in some cases.

Predictions about how the installation of renewable energy technology on a warehouse and how the use of alternative fuels during distribution would affect the supply chain's carbon footprint can also be made.

Don Walker, senior vice president of distribution operations at McKesson Corporation, noted: "Today we are advancing our ability to contain costs while contributing to the health of our environment."