EloTalk: What is the role of engineering in fostering a more sustainable pharmaceutical industry?

The discourse surrounding sustainability and ethical considerations is increasingly gaining prominence within the pharmaceutical industry. Environmental concerns underscore the significance of minimizing wastewater and curbing emissions in this sector. To foster a cleaner operation and guarantee sufficient medicine availability for all, what measures must be taken within the industry?

In this EloTalk episode, we talk about the development of the pharmaceutical sector and the role of engineering enabling more sustainable manufacturing in the industry together with Miroslav Tonovski, CEO of NAYA Life Sciences, and Mona Åkerholm, Senior Vice President of the Pharma Business Unit at Elomatic, hosted by Anna Ståhle.

The adoption of sustainable pharma practices is underway

The need for sustainability in the pharmaceutical industry has become more apparent in recent years as global concerns about climate change and environmental degradation continue to grow. The pharmaceutical industry has been estimated to generate more CO2-emissions than the automotive sector. *

What does sustainability mean for the industry?

“It’s always a certain balance between efficiency and effectiveness when it comes to sustainability. We’re trying to optimize the production with cost efficiency and by controlling the waste”, Tonovski tells.

By minimizing waste and using less water, manufacturers can reduce the environmental footprint of medicines. Also, energy efficiency plays an important role in reducing emissions.  

Åkerholm reminds that sustainability in pharmaceutical sector encompasses more than just environmental aspects: “It’s easy to remember that saving energy or using less water is important in sustainability, but it’s also making pharmaceuticals available for all people.”

Technology plays a significant role in achieving sustainability goals

The pharmaceutical industry, characterized by strong regulation and complex supply chains, is widely perceived as a conservative sector. The adaptation of new technology is typically slower in the industry compared to others. However, technology has a significant role in more sustainable production. State-of-the-art technology can be used, for example, to improve the quality control accuracy of medicines and it also enables the pharmaceutical industry to reduce emissions by improving production. 

“One key thing is automation and automated processes in the pharmaceutical industry. Robots are coming into the pharmaceutical industry, where the work has been highly manual before”, Åkerholm emphasizes.

According to Tonovski, engineering companies work as a consultative partner to encourage pharmaceutical companies in adapting new technologies: “Sometimes it’s challenging to explain for a customer what are the benefits of a new technology. Especially in cases, when the solution is increasing the capital expenses but decreasing the operational expenses.”

Focus on water

Reducing the use of clean water is a significant environmental action in the pharmaceutical industry. In addition, it is critical to minimize the number of pharmaceutical residues entering the waterways and ecosystems during the production phase.

“To avoid using water, there is technology for producing medicines in plastic bags and single use equipment. In many other parts in the world, we should generally avoid plastics, but in the pharmaceutical industry using plastics is a good thing”, Åkerholm highlights.

Affordable medicines for all require joining the forces

Affordable and accessible medicines are not just a goal but a collective responsibility that demands collaboration across the pharmaceutical supply chain. Sustainability in the pharmaceutical industry transcends mere discussions of carbon footprint and environmental concerns. It necessitates a commitment to ensuring that medications are within reach for everyone, particularly during critical situations like a global pandemic.

Åkerholm emphasizes the importance of a unified effort throughout the supply chain, advocating for a more equitable distribution of essential resources. Using the example of COVID-19 vaccines, she questions why the supply chain couldn’t ensure a more even distribution globally.

What may seem utopian today can evolve into reality tomorrow. The journey toward a world where everyone’s health is a priority begins with the sharing of knowledge, resources, and technologies. It is a collaborative effort that requires the active involvement of all stakeholders.

“Everybody must be involved, and we must invest in safety. Certain rules must exist, but our task with the pharmaceutical companies is to make regulation easier by communicating and sharing the knowledge”, Tonovski highlights. 


Watch the whole EloTalk episode



*Belkhir, L., & Elmeligi, A. (2019.) Carbon footprint of the global pharmaceutical industry and relative impact of its major players.


What if there were enough medicines for everyone in the world, and people could afford them? The fourth and final episode of the EloTalk season will deep dive into the manufacturing of medicines. How can we ensure a sustainable pharmaceutical industry to secure affordable medicine for all?

EloTalk season 2

In the EloTalk episodes, we delve into the role of technology in building a responsible and sustainable future. Yes, the connection between these elements is likely understood by everyone, even though the transition from words to actions isn’t always clear. In the second season’s episodes, we intertwine technology and humanism, the sustainability of the planet and human well-being, engineering sciences and emotions.