In the second of our features on key talks from the recent Lab Innovations’ My Green Lab/Laboratory News seminar series, we report on Andrew King of AstraZeneca’s contribution.
“We know that our future depends on healthy people, a healthy society and a healthy planet.” As the poet John Donne observed in less inclusive times, no man is an island. Paraphrasing that metaphor for the modern age, neither is any woman, organisation, population, species or region. And that might serve as a guiding principle for sustainability, if AstraZeneca’s Health, Safety & Environment Director for Global Quality Operations, Andrew King’s opening quote above is anything to judge by.
On the face of it, large multinational corporations that are more susceptible to the demands of the shareholder dividend, profit reporting and international competitiveness might make unconvincing converts to the Green cause.
That may have been so, back in previous decades when the bottom line and societal demands were less aligned. But this is an age in which factors that were once dismissed now loom very large. Reputational risk is today much more at the forefront of boards’ collective minds and the larger the company, (often) the more explicitly so. Being seen to lead on such issues, rather than reluctantly follow, matters.
AstraZeneca has worked closely with session co-curator My Green Lab and engaged in several MGL programmes
No surprise then, perhaps, to find Astra- Zeneca’s representative talking on the subject of ‘Leading in Sustainability’ and the need for a health-focused company to “create value for society beyond the impact of our medicines”.
For companies with legacy assets and workplace cultures, the move to sustainable practice presents a challenge not dissimilar to that of digital adoption and automation: how to start, where to focus and how to complement rather than undermine business goals. By and large this is easier for organisations above a certain size that are equipped with human, financial and asset resources on a greater scale. No wonder that SMEs often lag behind corporates in terms of adoption and their speed of implementation. One advantage for them, though, is no shortage of blueprints.
AstraZeneca’s path to greater sustainable practice in its labs and elsewhere began, says King, with identifying three strategic priority areas including access to healthcare, environmental protection, and ethics and transparency.
The company framed a series of ambitions:
Access to healthcare
- Increasing access to life-saving treatments
- Promoting prevention
- Strengthening resilience and sustainability of healthcare systems
- Accelerating delivery of Net Zero healthcare
- Proactively managing environmental impact
- Investing in nature and diversity
Ethics and transparency
Ensuring behaviour across organisation and supply chain is
- Ethical and open
- Safe and inclusive
Next, each of the three pillars had to be underpinned by practical considerations. Nine focus areas were pinpointed in a materiality assessment; involving stakeholder engagement and analysis to identify those areas that would have to be addressed in order to implement the sustainability strategy effectively. Carried out in collaboration with independent consultants and guided by AstraZeneca’s Sustainability Advisory Board, the assessment identified the key issues that mattered most to the company and stakeholders, identified where policy could exert the most positive impact and tested the strategy against emerging trends and stakeholder engagements, outlined King.
Access to healthcare would be determined by equitable access, affordability and pricing, plus health system resilience. Environmental protection by a zero carbon ambition, product sustainability and addressing natural resources. Ethics and transparency by the maintenance of an ethical business culture, inclusion and diversity, plus workplace safety and health.
At this the focus shifts to concrete steps and measurable achievement. Taking the environmental protection pillar as an example, implementation has hinged upon a succession of partnerships and initiatives begun in 2021.
At the end of that year a collaboration with Future Biogas saw the construction of a renewable energy plant to generate biomethane as a substitute for natural gas and supplying a ‘significant’ portion of the firm’s UK biomethane complement by 2025. This was complemented by a £20 million onsite solar PV investment. Finally, a partnership with Honeywell started last year to develop and commercialise next generation respiratory inhalers with near-zero global warming potential propellant.
The Ambition Zero Carbon programme is on track, states King, to reduce Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 98% by 2026. The aim is to also halve value chain footprint by the end of the decade and to secure a 90% reduction by 2045.
Meanwhile, with more direct emphasis on the lab sector and product sustainability, AstraZeneca launched its EcoPharmacoVigilance (EPV) dashboard and product sustainability index (PSI) in 2021. The natural resource focus area was addressed with projected annual savings of 10% now earmarked for the company’s giant 96,000m2 Wuxi pharmaceutical manufacturing site, one of the largest in Asia. Also, a switch to paperbased trays in 2021 has avoided the need for nearly 195,000 items of single-use plastic.
As with many of the speakers at the recent Lab Innovations show sustainability strand, AstraZeneca has worked closely with session co-curator My Green Lab and engaged in several MGL programmes and completed MGL certification for 10 sites and baseline surveys for a further 14.
While the initiatives of the last 15 or so months will take time for their full effect to be assessed, 2021’s highlights demonstrated “solid progress against our sustainability goals” insisted King [presented in the slide above].