The year of 2022 represents another step closer to sustainability deadlines for many global organisations and those life science companies that have made the ambitious but necessary pledge to achieve net zero carbon within the next 3-8 years.
But 2021 was not a year without progress for sustainably conscious businesses, as the introduction of the Science Based Targets initiative’s (SBTi) net zero corporate standard presented an opportunity for corporations such as AstraZeneca to align their already existing goals with the science-led objectives of the SBTi.
The initiative seeks to provide a framework to deliver a net zero future in business, placing priority on 2030 emission goals and hoping to give guidance to the some 80% of global GDP that is currently covered by commitments to achieve net zero by 2050.
The ultimate aim of the SBTi, as with the internationally recognised 2015 Paris Agreement, is to prevent planetary warming above 1.5°C, which will have profound consequences for planet earth, as was revealed in the 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.
Last year, the challenge for the pharmaceutical industry was multi-faceted, with much of the focus around the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there was still some emphasis on environmental sustainability, with GSK and AstraZeneca notably leading the conversation at COP26.
Our executive director, Keith Beattie states, “it was a consolidation last year, of people realising that more is needed to be done to achieve objectives and goals by 2025 and 2030”. With 3 years to go until delivery of AstraZeneca’s Ambition Zero Carbon, and just 8 years until GSK, Novartis and many others are set to deliver on their respective net zero promises, the environmental impact of the pharmaceutical industry is set to alter drastically in this decade.
As these goals continue to get closer to the present day, the framework provided by the SBTi and similar organisations will increase scrutiny on how net zero is being delivered, “organisations that are perhaps relying on offsets for their strategies and businesses are going to be doing the most work…”, Keith Beattie explains, “they’re not fundamentally reorganising their business to be less carbon intensive. I think organisations need to step up and deliver results”.
Achieving Net Zero
Delivering these sustainable results in the life science sector will mean identifying the optimal opportunities for energy reduction on a site-by-site basis taking into account local conditions and regulations. To do this, alignment and transparency with key stakeholders is crucial for buy-in, as well as an understanding of current engineering best practice and a roadmap of delivery, allowing a site team to visualise its pathway to net zero carbon in line with wider corporate sustainability goals.
Once opportunities for improved energy efficiency have been identified, these ideas should be discussed in practical terms, assessing the feasibility and implementation of these concepts will bring them closer to reality. Doing this will confirm the initial energy and cost saving that was first noted through identification.
Practical completion of these ideas will be the ultimate hurdle, with short-term investment needed to observe long-term gains in both operational expenditure and decarbonisation. But with the increasing cost of energy prices driven by factors external to the pharmaceutical industry, those projects that require high capital expenditure will only become more appealing as energy rates continue to rise throughout this decade.
Even when significant carbon reductions have been made, there are still avenues for improvement. With better techniques for energy monitoring and management now available, new insights into site efficiency allow for visualisation of key data, informing decision making and maximising the potential of energy managers.
The Role of the Cleanroom
To truly deliver the net zero future the pharmaceutical industry is striving for, the energy intensive nature of cleanrooms will also have to be tackled, particularly as these spaces are up to 100 times as energy intensive as office buildings of comparative size, with as much as 75% of this energy usage derived from HVAC and associated systems.
With this in mind, there is great potential to reduce cleanroom energy usage by improving the efficiency of cleanroom HVAC systems, with the next generation of cleanrooms set to be built from the ground up with the latest in AHU design, energy expensive environments such as cleanrooms are set to experience noteworthy decreases in energy consumption, providing another upcoming avenue for improved sustainability in the life sciences.