Advancing sustainability in life sciences with blockchain
6 MINS READ
Sustainability is an immediate need for humankind on earth. Everything considered as progress over the years is now coming back to threaten the existence of humankind on the planet. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report declares that significant climate changes have already occurred. A small window is available to stop this from sliding into an absolute disaster, making it imperative for businesses to plan for this new operating environment and increase awareness and consumer preference for sustainable business practices.
Pharma and life sciences industries are heavily regulated. The increasing focus on sustainability among regulatory agencies sees these regulations expand, further adding pressure on businesses to consider sustainability as a primary agenda item.
Figure 1: 17 identified sustainable development goals to transform our world
Businesses can achieve sustainability at the intersection of humanity, technology, and innovation. Blockchain technology can address sustainability challenges across various industries by providing secure and traceable records. A decentralized digital ledger can help track assets in a peer-to-peer business network.
Blockchain has the potential and ability to address the end-to-end traceability, transparency, and auditability challenges across supply chains. It provides a timestamped, immutable single source of truth that helps an ecosystem with a trusted set of transactions and data, based on which the entire ecosystem stakeholders can make collective decisions. Companies can monitor their activities—such as emissions across the supply chain—so that businesses can substantiate their sustainability achievement claims. These inherent characteristics make blockchain a suitable technology to promote a sustainable ecosystem.
Consumers are increasingly becoming aware of their responsibilities toward a sustainable environment by consuming recyclable products and promoting sustainable development. Responsible consumers are inclined to work with companies that promote sustainability and have demonstrated experience moving up sustainability contributions over time.
Life sciences companies are acknowledging the urgent need for sustainability and setting their goals and plan to attain them. It is essential to communicate these efforts to consumers through a mechanism that is trusted. One such method can be the sustainability index. Consumers need to know how the product scores on this index.
Sustainability is measured by assessing the performance of social, environmental, and economic principles. Several factors help measure sustainability. Some of them include carbon and water footprint, energy consumption, product recycling rate, waste reduction rate, distribution sustainability, environmental sustainability index, and supply chain miles.
There is a need to bring transparency to the various sustainability measures throughout the product's lifecycle by the multiple stakeholders across the value chain. In such cases, looking at it from an individual company level is easy. However, if we look at the larger ecosystem consisting of various players, including contract manufacturers, raw material suppliers, packaging suppliers, logistic partners, and the like, getting this information from everyone is difficult in a traditional supply chain system. Fetching the data in a uniform set from all stakeholders is challenging. To add to that, a third party ends up controlling the data.
Blockchain brings all the ecosystem players onto a platform. It creates the backbone for the ecosystem, supporting various models to derive the sustainability index. This technology efficiently facilitates the provenance of items by providing transparency and traceability. At different stages of the supply chain, from production, storage, collection, transportation, arrival, and disposal, various participants capture not only the tracking information but also the materials used and information related to human rights, as well as fair work practices.
Blockchain also helps improve sourcing and recycling practices and allows consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions, enabling them to consume sustainable circular products and services.
Historical information kept on blockchain also enables comparison of the sustainability index over time, allowing businesses to keep track of the progress and any potential for future improvement. In pharma, given the regulatory challenges, change control, validation of the products, and the like, this change may not happen overnight. But having this visibility and trend over a period allows each stakeholder in the supply chain to decide if they want to discontinue a particular supplier with a low sustainability index.
The consumer can influence the suppliers and manufacturers to follow sustainable practices. The same is also valid for medicines, though they have a life-saving aspect. Some medicines are a lifesaver and will still be consumed despite the low sustainability index.
Figure 2: Blockchain for sustainable supply chain and ecosystem
Blockchain technology creates more ways for healthcare to increase safety and efficiency by decentralizing data. A blockchain-based supply chain ecosystem helps track the sustainability index and can play a significant role in implementing sustainable practices toward a greener world. In addition to considerable medication waste, the pharma industry generates a substantial amount of paper and plastic waste.
Several documents, such as immunization records and paper prescriptions, must be stored for many years, depending on the information they contain. Medication package inserts are essential to drug information and are very valuable. They provide crucial information related to drugs, such as ingredients, most common side effects, procedures, and precautions on the consumption of drugs, reporting any adverse effects, and the like. Paper inserts are costly to produce and have a high environmental impact. In many cases—like refills and prolonged use—the document is not required and generates a lot of waste.
Changing these documents to a paperless format could save thousands of tons of paper each year. Businesses are already taking steps toward paperless routes, such as e-prescriptions and digital receipts. Going further, other documentation and patient prescription information could significantly reduce the amount of paper used and improve the sustainability of pharma practice.
Using blockchain-based digital medicinal package inserts will help overcome multiple challenges and create a sustainable environment across the ecosystem.
Blockchain ensures that the latest, trusted, and accurate medical information is guaranteed just by scanning the QR code. Businesses can avoid recalls because of changes in product information related to reported adverse events. It can improve regulatory compliance by providing the latest and correct information to patients and healthcare professionals (HCPs).
Pharma companies can explore and employ paperless environment-friendly sustainable alternatives, improve accessibility to users with diverse abilities, and reduce costs and handling efforts for manufacturers.
Prescribing controlled substances using paper prescriptions will only be identified during the dispense or claim adjudication transaction phase. Blockchain enables real-time access for authorized individuals to view controlled drug transactions.
While there are situations where paper is essential, such as labeling prescription containers that provide patients with vital information and medication updates, not every case requires paper use.
Similarly, there are many scenarios throughout the product's life, including manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, disposal, or recycling, where companies are working to reduce their carbon footprints. These include:
Manufacturers also play an essential role in ensuring the suppliers onboarded in the journey contribute to a greener ecosystem by getting insights into the supplier's climate action maturity, setting targets, monitoring and collecting data on allocated emissions, and then incentivizing and recognizing their carbon reductions.
Regulatory agencies are prepared to enforce and encourage circular practices by creating conditions, such as re-used, refurbished, or recycled products and materials, to support companies and organizations in implementing circular business models.
Blockchain is a crucial stakeholder in the whole supply chain toward a greener ecosystem with contributions that enhance information and prediction accuracy, eliminate intermediaries, improve collaboration, facilitate innovative processes, decentralize operations, and enhance trust and reduce risk. It optimizes the use of energy and resources, and enables real-time tracking of materials, health and safety certifications; helps monitor violation of human right and improve the recall process.
Regulatory agencies, manufacturers, and suppliers are taking steps towards a greener ecosystem, and blockchain is an inherent partner in this journey.