Supply chain & logistics

the patient, GP and pharmacy. Rarely, if ever, do pharmacies have visibility of each other’s stock, which makes for a lot of redundancy. “If they ordered together, they could achieve a certain amount of economic scale,” Xie says. Emissions from transportation could also be minimised if multiple pharmacies had their stock delivered together. A more advanced system for forecasting and planning would reduce waste, Xie continues. “Downstream of the supply chain, GPs, hospitals and pharmacies need to share information, especially about demand.” She cites GPs discontinuing repeat prescriptions without informing pharmacies as a common cause of unused medicines. Xie also returns to her electrical appliance analogy in this context. “Manufacturers have a responsibility to take back and recycle your washing machine,” she explains. “You can return medication to pharmacies, but this is at an additional cost to pharmacies, so they participate passively not actively. If the main players don’t have an environmental mindset, how are they going to influence local government? We need to do more campaigning at the grassroots level to influence behaviours.”

“We should be shipping knowledge and skills around the world, not fridges.”

Toby Peters

Hinds agrees there’s a need to localise some environmental problems, but says communities outside Europe and North America are already keenly aware of the link between the environment and health. “They have always had to worry about safe and clean water, and about safe waste disposal and recycling,” she notes. “The challenge may be to convince the more industrialised powers to take accountability for the full cost of doing business.” But what about China and India, where industrialisation has grown largely at the expense of the environment? “You need to make the case relevant to that country and their culture,” she points out. “There’s no one-size-fits-all answer.”

Hinds, Xie and Peters all agree on the need for a return to local manufacturing, which would reduce supply chain risk, cut carbon emissions and boost local economies. “It’s not just about the environmental footprint,” says Peters. “It’s also about the wider economic footprint – we should be shipping knowledge and skills around the world, not fridges.”

Bits, bytes and bites

Hinds says a stepwise approach is needed. “We’re looking at the data and we’re creating tangible solutions. It’s not just ‘how do you eat an elephant’, but how to simplify it: you eat it one bite at a time.” In that


sense, sustainability is well-suited to the procurement and supply chain division, which structures the connections between a company’s different functions and with its external partners.

Both Xie and Hinds stress the importance of data along the entire chain, but some flexibility is required. “If you look at emissions for things like lawyers and consultants, these don’t have the same scientific rigour as for plastics, gas and electricity – we know those are scientifically accurate, so we can work on tangible solutions,” says Hinds. “When you have data that is inaccurate, it’s harder to move anything forward. But do we really want to go and measure the emissions of an individual doctor? How is that going to help? So, you have to be willing to say, ‘OK, we’re not 100%, but we have enough to move forward’.” It takes creativity, too. At one Roche site in Germany, data showed that methane was the largest source of greenhouse gas. Hinds’ team identified that a solution was to add a seaweed called Asparagopsis to cattle feed to reduce flatulence.

Hinds admits research and solutions aren’t “easy fixes” – and they come at a cost – however, by finding solutions, companies have the power to influence not only the chain but also to set examples for governments. Hinds cites an initiative at a diagnostics manufacturing facility in China where there were no strict government standards for medical waste recycling. A newspaper reported untreated waste going into children’s toys via local plastics recycling processes. The facility created a plan to take back used Roche diagnostic instruments and partnered with a local supplier to sustainably treat waste from Roche products. “It’s efforts like that, where we collaborate, that change something,” Hinds says.

is food that goes to waste. “We’re simply fixated on electric vehicles and green electricity for offices.” Covid-19, he stresses, should be used to deliver a legacy of supply chain sustainability that guarantees resilience during the next crisis. “This is our one chance to say, let’s put this under the spotlight and see where we want to be in ten years or 15 years’ time, and use this to get there.”

The devil and the warming sea Peters says prior to Covid-19, communities didn’t appreciate what goes on in the pharmaceutical supply chain. “People didn’t know that, according to WHO, 25% of vaccines in low and middle-income countries can be lost because of broken cold chains.” Likewise, there is a lack of knowledge about how food is moved around the world – he says the third biggest emitter of CO2

“Covid has created a unique moment in human

history,” agrees Hinds, “and I hope that the collaboration sticks. My hope is that we seize this moment, as a society, to address the much bigger issues, but the devil is always in the details.” ●

World Pharmaceutical Frontiers /

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