The Greening of the Cold Chain

Cathy Roberson

Sustainability has become a buzz-word throughout the logistics space but it seems it has a variety of interpretations. It can range from using renewable resources in production, reducing energy use in operations, waste-reduction and more. The pharmaceutical industry is certainly no stranger to sustainability and is in fact facing mounting pressure from the public and governments to reduce its environmental impact. However, its dilemma may be considered a bit different from pressures that other industries are facing. For example, the pharmaceutical industry must balance safety standards while improving its environmental impact.

A growing number of pharmaceutical companies are establishing sustainability programs. Among them is Johnson & Johnson who has incorporated it into its overall strategy.

Download the agenda for the Temperature Controlled Logistics Forum taking place from 30th January to the 2nd of February 2017 in London. Download the agenda here

Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson’s Earthwards program encompasses all of its groups including medical devices, pharmaceuticals and consumer goods and provides its strategy for designing and manufacturing more sustainable products. According to the director of the program, “Our approach is to evaluate all products to identify areas for optimization and this applies to all of our business sectors. The key questions now are whether we can use less packaging and maintain the same integrity and whether we can use more sustainable packaging.”1  Indeed, the company has a central strategic design organization that works toward minimizing space and improving packaging efficiency.

Packaging and Transportation Network

Within the cold chain, packaging has made great strides. Reusable shippers have become the norm replacing Styrofoam boxes with gel packs. Express providers such as DHL, FedEx and UPS offer a variety of sustainable cold chain packaging.

In today’s extended and ever increasing green supply chain, cold chain packaging is very important. But, also, the route temperature-controlled items take to either a customer or warehouse also plays big role in sustainable practices.  

Baxter International

Baxter International has over 35,000 suppliers in more than 100 countries. The company uses not only its own private fleet but also third party transportation services to transport all of its products, including temperature sensitive ones. To reduce costs as well as the environmental impact of transport, Baxter shifted to intermodal services in Europe and the US. Shipping containers are moved from manufacturing facilities by truck, switched to rail or barge for longer distances and then shifted back to truck to complete the delivery. Baxter also looks to increase capacity utilization and uses double-deck trucks to replenish its European distribution centers. It also ensures trucks are at maximum load capacity including through collaboration with business partners. In the US, it partners with FedEx to use its Healthcare Shared Network to transport products with specific temperature requirements. 2

Technology’s Role in Sustainable Cold Chain Logistics

The ability to remotely track pharmaceuticals from origin to destination as well as the ability to monitor and adjust temperature and/or other environmental changes while in transport has improved the sustainable cold chain. In this case, the packaging and sensors reduce spoilage and maintain integrity of the product.

In addition, the data from technology investments is able to be analyzed and utilized in strategies to further enhance packaging, route optimization and create new sustainable solutions.


The need to ‘green’ is growing. While the pharmaceutical industry faces numerous challenges, greening the logistics associated with it can be balanced with other requirements. Follow best practices, establish measurable goals and objectives and work with your supply chain partners to achieve optimal success.




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