In our last post on sustainability, we said that “if the global health sector were a country, it would be the fifth-largest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet”. In this article, we take one step further and highlight the changes and initiatives/success stories being undertaken by the different players in the BioRegion of Catalonia to ensure a positive impact on the environment.
National economic policies are determined by sustainable timelines following the creation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, formed by 17 sustainable development goals (SDG) that will define global action until the year 2030. This Agenda, along with The European Green Deal, which seeks climate neutrality by 2050, have a common goal: sustainable world development through ambitious policies in the EU and international agreements.
In line with this world priority, the companies and entities of the BioRegion of Catalonia are working on reaching ‘footprint zero’ through the management of waste, the optimisation of energy, the reuse of materials or the reduction of CO₂ emissions, among others. Below are a range of initiatives that we have identified throughout the ecosystem, with success stories from research centres, science parks and hospitals, as well as startups and large businesses, and including venture capital funds.
Research is yet another contributing factor to the climate crisis we are experiencing, as laboratories are extremely “plasticised” environments. It is calculated that 2% of all plastic waste on the planet comes from biomedical and agricultural research. Tubes, Petri dishes or pipette tips that were previously made of glass are now plastic, which is a cheap, resistant material but primarily single use. International initiatives to reduce plastics in laboratories, such as MyGreen Lab, ‘Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework’ (LEAF) or Green Labs Austria, have inspired research centres and science parks in the BioRegion to create sustainability committees to promote a reduction of the impact that research has on the environment.
This is the case of the PRBB Sustainability Group, an initiative established in 2021 by the centres forming the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB), which are concerned about the impact of their work and the sustainability of their research. The activities for change promoted by this committee range from the use of reusable laboratory material, the optimisation of energy or the reduction of packaging to the management of waste, obtaining extremely positive results.
Also noteworthy is the Sustainability Committee of the Institute of Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), created in late 2020 by members of the different profiles of the institute to define the IBEC strategy to promote sustainability in research. This is a working paper that specifies the activities related to the use of energy and water, waste, purchasing, trips and travel to work. Other examples of recently established working groups are that of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) of Barcelona, which has drawn up good practices to reduce the impact on the environment both in Administration and in the laboratories, or the Sustainability Committee of August Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBAPS).
Source: My Green Lab
Another interesting initiative has been set up by the Research Centres of Catalonia (CERCA) for the recovery and repair of scientific-technological equipment as part of the CERCAGINYS project, a platform that provides the scientific community and private sector with the scientific and technological services of the CERCA centres. The programme has opened up the possibility of exchanging unused equipment through a collaboration agreement. “This extends the useful life of the equipment and means that other centres in the programme can use these instruments”, explains Roger Cabezas, I-CERCA head of Knowledge Management. Interested centres can consult the offers for the transfer of equipment or publish new ones on the CERCAGINYS intranet. The programme is currently in its pilot phase, but already has the odd success story.
Hospitals also generate small amounts of chemical, pharmaceutical and radioactive waste that requires special treatment. According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), 30% of hospitals do not manage healthcare waste safely -the percentage does not reach 60% in developing countries- and, with COVID-19, the problem became even worse. Leaving the pandemic to one side, according to the Catalan Waste Agency (ARC), over 96 tonnes of hospital waste is generated every day throughout the healthcare network, half of which is healthcare waste.
The hospitals in the Catalan network are therefore working on reducing not only their waste but also the generation of emissions and the use of electricity, water and gas. Fundació Sanitària Mollet won an international sustainability award in 2021, as well as having developed a recycling and waste management project. “The goal of FSM is to ensure our carbon footprint is soon at 0%. The green culture must form part of the strategy and permeate the structure and processes”, explains Jaume Duran, managing director of Fundació Sanitària Mollet.
The Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital has a Waste Management Plan and a committee responsible for monitoring it. Furthermore, the hospital was presented with an award in 2015 for a ground-breaking project in Europe to reduce the wastage of meals not eaten by patients. It is also worth noting that the Health and Social Consortium of Catalonia (CSC) and Sant Joan de Déu Hospital in Barcelona became members of the Global Green Healthy Hospitals (GGHH), an international community with over 1,200 members in 60 countries, coordinated by Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) Europe, which advises and assists the hospitals in the implementation of sustainability criteria.
There is also the case of the insurance company Sanitas, which has just closed the application window for the ecoDisruptive programme to detect solutions that help its hospitals become more sustainable.
The health startups and scale-ups in the ecosystem are also becoming aware of the environment and sustainability is increasingly integrating into them. This is tackled from two areas: startups that have included sustainability policies in their production chain to reduce their environmental impact, and others that provide solutions to environmental challenges.
The first group includes Dan*na Artificial Nature, a biotech that monitors resources and processes and classifies waste to obtain the most efficient bioproduct, Monzon Biomed, a startup that makes dermatological products promoting the optimisation of resources and the reduction of waste or Onyriq, which develops recyclable, biodegradable and environment-friendly polymers and biopolymers.
Others help reduce climate change, such as the biotech Venvirotech biotechnology, which transforms organic waste into biodegradable bioplastics, Bluephage, a biotech that produces analysis kits to detect contaminated water, and Vytrus Biotech, a company that specialises in plant stem cell-derived active ingredients for the cosmetic sector, which has achieved 100% natural origin content in its entire portfolio of active ingredients according to the standard ISO 16128, leading it this year to win the first BBVA award for innovation in environmental sustainability.
There is also the case of the startup Roka Furadada, which has set the goal of becoming a 100% sustainable company within the next 3 years, optimising the use of renewable energies, efficient production processes, and the use of 100% natural ingredients, or the scale-up Impress, with an initiative to recycle its clear aligners using containers installed in its clinics.
Regulations regarding sustainability have also reached investment funds through the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR), which has been classifying investments funds since 2021 in line with their exercising of sustainability.
Alta Life Sciences, one of the specialist venture capital firms in the BioRegion, is working actively on incorporating the sustainable investment angle into its next fund. “The investment funds involved in the health sector contribute directly towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 3 and 9 due to their type of activity and, therefore, have a positive impact on society”, explains Montserrat Vendrell, partner at Alta Life Science. She adds, “We want to go even further considering the environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors in each stage of the investment cycle, working with companies from our portfolio to develop their sustainability practices. We are committed to contributing towards other SDGs while helping creating value for the company and, in short, making companies more competitive”.
Another specialist fund in the BioRegion, Asabys Partners, obtained the Bureau Veritas certification last year, which endorses the responsibility of its activities with regard to any environmental or social impact.
Pharmaceutical companies such as Almirall, Avinent, Croda Ibérica, Ferrer, Grifols and Palex Medical are also adopting measures to reduce environmental impact, especially focusing on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and on energy efficiency. In fact, this action is already being perceived, as Silvia Labé, director of communications, marketing and competitive intelligence at Biocat explained at the last congress on sustainability in biotechnology, referring to the latest Pharma industry Report on Production Plants. “The adopting of action with a positive impact has reduced the ratio of energy consumption per employee by more than 8% in three years, and the source of the energy consumed by Spanish production plants is renewable in 70% of all cases”, she explained.
An example of companies that have reduced CO₂ emissions can be found in Almirall, which has been able to reduce its emissions by 39% in less than a decade, following a plan focused on reducing its overall carbon footprint. Another example is the case of Grífols, the only European representative from the sector in the Dow Jones Sustainability, which works towards reducing its carbon footprint by half before 2023.
Others, such as Avinent and Croda Ibérica, focus on Responsible Consumption and Production. The former has implemented different initiatives to replace machinery in line with environmental criteria to improve efficiency, and the latter is also moving towards energy efficiency and responsible consumption. Also worth noting is Ferrer that, through its sustainability policy, has become the first Spanish pharmaceutical company to form part of the international B Corp community, the group of companies aimed at building a more inclusive and sustainable economy.
This is a review of the main activities in the ecosystem that we have identified in 2022 and that shows the commitment of a large number of the players in the BioRegion to incorporate sustainability strategies into their business models and into their undertaking of research. The ZERO objective is extremely ambitious yet inevitable, and the data available warns of the fact that there will be no green transition without a transition of the health sector.