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Evolving Pharma Supply Chains: A Sustainable Approach

Across the globe, the devastating impact of climate change – flash floods, mass displacement, and rapidly changing weather conditions – is affecting the lives of millions, especially in the global south.  

The pharma industry has dedicated itself to delivering life-changing medication to those in need. However, without adopting sustainable practices and moving to a net zero model, the pharma supply chain could have profound implications on the lives of those committed to helping.  

So, how can we do this together?  

The environmental impact of the pharma supply chain

The global healthcare industry emits two gigatons of CO₂ emissions1 annually, with 70%2 coming from the pharmaceutical supply chain. Balancing the need for efficient and timely deliveries with minimizing environmental impact can be intricate. Traditional lane optimization methods may prioritize speed and cost over sustainability. The pharma industry, with its stringent temperature-controlled requirements, faces additional complexity.

Also, 70% to 90% of temperature-sensitive medications are still transported in low-tech single-use packaging3 which are essentially cardboard and Styrofoam boxes with cold bricks. This prevailing practice increases the carbon footprint in several ways: 

  • Inefficiency: Single-use containers can weigh up to five times as much as the actual product and use 3.5 times the space of the product they secure. This leads to unnecessary air traffic, increased fuel consumption, and considerable resource waste. 
  • Temperature excursions: These low-tech packaging solutions are prone to temperature excursions, resulting in additional emissions for corrective and preventive actions (CAPAs) and product losses.  
  • CO₂ emissions: A typical intercontinental transport of one pallet of medication, including packaging emits between 6 and 14 tons of CO₂ for one EU pallet of medication4. 

At SkyCell, we are committed to helping our pharma partners tackle these challenges. 

Sustainability in action 

It’s important to look at not just “why” we care about sustainability but “how” we implement it in practice. Our dedication to protecting the planet and the lives of those on it goes far beyond rhetoric. That’s why we’ve designed solutions backed up with data and years of expertise.  

Each development has taken our commitment to sustainability to the next level. Some of our solutions include: 

SkyCell hybrid containers 

Our reusable hybrid containers have optimized weight and volume to reduce CO₂ emissions with every shipment.​ Independently validated5, hybrid containers demonstrate a remarkable up to 50% decrease in CO emissions compared to other conventional containers. 

Through recycled materials, volume efficiency, and the reduction of temperature excursions, they have a significant impact on sustainability targets.  

Compared to conventional single-use packaging, SkyCell’s containers boast a weight-volume ratio that is several times more efficient, leading to fewer air traffic requirements and incidently less demand for fossil fuels.  

This is exemplified by our new 1500X hybrid container. Its volume is only 1.5 times the volume of the product it secures, and with a tare weight of 379 kg, substantially lowers resource consumption and reduces CO₂ emissions. It’s an ideal combination of efficiency, reliability, and sustainability.  

Supply chain digitalization 

Our SkyMind software provides increased visibility and control of shipments, enabling the optimization of shipping lanes, real-time monitoring of shipments, tracking of CO₂ emissions, and proactive interventions. This leads to enhanced efficiency and reduced losses. 

One of our pharma customers used SkyMind to monitor and identify inefficiencies in their supply chain. They simulated various solutions and compared CO₂ emissions, logistics costs, and risks. In over two years, they were able to avoid 250,000 tons of CO₂ emissions, an estimation based on the most recent MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics calculation methods6 

Circular economics 

SkyCell promotes a circular approach to pharmaceutical transport by enhancing the reusability, repairability, and recyclability of our containers. In this model, containers are leased, returned, and reused, extending their lifecycle and reducing environmental impact. 

At the end of each lease, we take back our containers for cleaning, maintenance, and potential repairs. Any still-functional parts are also repurposed in the creation of new products at the end of their lifespan. 

Hybrid containers undergo multiple reuse cycles, allowing us to employ high-performance, lightweight, and space-efficient materials, effectively reducing the life cycle CO2 emissions of our hardware. 

Despite potentially higher leasing fees for circular solutions, a comprehensive Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) analysis highlights the environmental impact and cost-effectiveness of our reusable hybrid containers. Reduced airfreight costs, prevention of temperature excursions, and minimize product losses underscore the sustainable nature of our solution. 

The path to net zero 

This isn’t just a story; it’s a testament to the power of a company dedicated to reducing medicine waste and championing a CO₂-neutral future in the pharma industry. And we don’t just stop at our own emissions. Our commitment extends beyond addressing our own emissions; we aim to support all our pharma customers on the path to net zero through our products, services, and expertise. 

Many companies are now looking for effective ways to integrate eco-friendly practices into their operations. We have seen a growing trend of major companies incorporating sustainability requirements into their RFQs — making it a vital part of the procurement process.  

Thanks to our dedicated Sustainability Team, we can offer you access to our knowledge, expertise, experience, and resources. We want to empower you to use real data and come up with a detailed plan to reach your targets.  

Reach out to our Sustainability Team

Tell us about a specific shipment and we’ll give you details about how switching to the hybrid could help reduce its footprint.

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