Author: Jason Snape, Head of Environmental Protection, AstraZeneca
The COVID-19 pandemic has, in a short time, had a long-lasting global economic, social and personal impact. As we look to the future and to economic recovery, how can we move forward on a more sustainable basis?
This shift to a circular rather than linear approach will take time and there are several challenges for global sectors, including the biopharmaceutical industry, to act on.
The world was already waking up to the economic as well as environmental need for the shift from a linear to a circular approach for a sustainable future. Most investors, governments and healthcare providers have aligned on the need to set greenhouse gas reduction targets and are scrutinizing their indirect carbon emissions related to the goods and services they procure and the companies they invest in.
Such shifting market demands are seeing healthcare systems take a holistic view of the entire care pathway: the environmental impact of the medicine itself, use of power and resources by the organization and its supply chain, and the impacts of patients with poorly managed chronic disease.
A healthy planet is essential for human health. We all need to come together to act on an environmentally sustainable economic model to deliver global health, taking integrated action to protect and support people and planet, and to work with local communities.
From green substitution to green procurement, through to solvent recovery, water reuse, and understanding and minimizing the environmental footprint of our medicines, AstraZeneca’s ambition is to be part of the global transition to an economy that best serves patients, society and protects our environment.
We are working towards a future where all people have access to sustainable healthcare solutions for life-changing treatment and prevention, through awareness and education programmes, training healthcare professionals and activating health facilities, made more critical in the light of the impact of Covid-19.
To achieve this, all stakeholders in global health will need to review processes and resources to identify where we can innovate, where we can remove, reduce, reuse and recycle materials, and where we can ensure that need is matched to resources. This means adopting an end-to-end approach to sustainable medicines development, from discovery to end of life, with circularity at every stage.
Currently, pharmaceuticals are the only class of compounds that are approved irrespective of environmental hazard and risk, because the societal benefit is assumed to always outweigh any environmental impact. By identifying environmental concerns early, the risks can be mitigated to ensure that patient access to medicines does not compromise the planet.
A circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. It replaces the end-of-life concept with restoration, shifts towards the use of renewable energy, eliminates the use of toxic chemicals and aims for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems and business models.
Collectively, we must collaborate to put societal and environmental health at the forefront of economic prosperity, taking a systems-level holistic approach. This joining of forces must go beyond our own industries, so that we co-invest rather than compete for natural resources to meet business demand, and we work with governments to ensure the right infrastructure, fiscal environment and long-term vision is in place to enable change.