Carbon Neutral and Sustainable Operation Strategies in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing

Carbon Neutral Practice PharmOutWe are proud to say that PharmOut is now a carbon neutral practice, in doing so reaffirming our commitment as a sustainable global consultancy practice. As a means of continuous improvement, this continues to prepare us for the challenges that face us in the responsible design and operation of buildings in working to reduce carbon emissions, and thereby supporting our clients to grow and compete in a low emissions future. It is in essence a measure of our acknowledgement of the importance of addressing climate change and our commitment to sustainability, innovation and industry leadership.

Indeed, there is much discussion in the media that supports the ubiquitous need for a far more sustainable approach to the design and operation of our buildings, and thankfully, most of us would have seen a shift with respect to the importance of sustainability in the construction industry.

Construction and the environment: carbon emissions

It is commonly quoted that building and construction are responsible for a significant proportion of all (direct and indirect) carbon emissions in the world:

Carbon emissions from buildings and construction currently constitute almost 40% of global carbon emissions. This is an alarming statistic, which needs urgent attention.” 1

Moreover, this sense of urgency is shared by an increasingly large number of industry practitioners who concur that sustainable building practices are undeniably (over)due.

Recently, Alexia Lidas similarly cited that:

“…urgent turning points for mitigating climate change are drawing near”.2

With the recent floods in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales, and the effects of climate change becoming ‘front and centre’ in Australia, her words are far more than a simple sentiment.

They represent an “S.O.S.” cry to the world – including, as major contributors to carbon emissions, leaders in the construction, building, and manufacturing industries.

Insights from early Environmental Design Research

As an Architect, I recall writing a paper for the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) in 1996 where I spoke to the ‘footprint’ impact of development, and specifically the premise that the earth had collectively “already exceeded its carrying capacity”.

Two decades or so have already since passed. And at the time, I considered the paper was already at least two decades late – at least since the 1973 oil embargo and the establishment of the World Conservation Strategy.

Flashback to early discussions of sustainability in building & construction

Scarcity and Growth” (Barnett and Morse, 1963) may possibly be the earliest formal articulation of sustainability and concerns with respect to the environment.

Yet even earlier comparisons may be drawn with the “Bauhaus movement”, founded in Germany in 1919 by Walter Gropius, in an arguably comparable paradigm shift within an era of change and disillusionment (following World War 1).

While its establishment has hardly been a very linear one, Brundtland’s 1987 definition of “sustainability” is today (still) a commonly accepted one, being:

“…any state of the global system in which the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs…” 3

 Building and construction in the manufacturing sector

In a more recent example of environmental protection initiatives within the realm of pharmaceutical manufacturing, the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) has generally stressed the:

“development of standards with requirements to support sustainability supporting a United Nations initiative” through the recognition that “cleanrooms and associated controlled environments are very resource intensive facilities.” 4

And the recently published standard on energy management in cleanrooms (ISO 14644–16:2019) clearly supports that need:

“The fact is that better management of cleanroom energy requirements can help reduce broader energy requirements and operating costs.

Better energy management by design and engineering innovations is a smart move, not only towards ensuring a sustainable manufacturing environment; but in terms of ‘business sense’ and long-term profitability – especially with today’s rising power costs and the impact of all manufacturing on the environment.”

How to achieve carbon reduction targets

While there has been ongoing conjecture as to the relative importance of – and timing of – achieving collective carbon reduction targets, we have unquestionably (already) reached the (tipping) point.

It is not only reasonable – but imperative for the environment – for building designers and building operators to have at least a general awareness of the environmental implications of their decisions, and that it is likewise unreasonable if such considerations are not evident in the design and operation of manufacturing buildings.

Paradigms Shifted. Strategic long-term thinking

Innovation can feel daunting at the best of times, especially in a well-established sector. Small companies and industry giants falter in acting simply because they lack an understanding of sustainability conversion processes and sustainable facility technologies.

For example, where should a company start in terms of reducing carbon emissions? What’s the ultimate cost of change in terms of time commitments and other resources? Where and when do the cost savings start showing up on the bottom line?

PharmOut SOS Carbon NeutralSo, in response to stakeholder uncertainty around possible sustainable actions and their costs, PharmOut has developed the “S.O.S.”, the Sustainable Operations Strategy approach – drawing on the expertise of our architecture, engineering, validation, auditing and quality systems SMEs and through the analysis of more than 20 existing sustainability ratings tools. PharmOut has created a timely approach to sustainable buildings & manufacturing.

An S.O.S. in pharmaceutical manufacturing investigates existing pharmaceutical manufacturing businesses and provides a tailored checklist of sustainable actions that are tangible, prioritised and costed to help industry leaders to reduce emissions and lower their overall operating costs for years to come.

The process begins with a detailed examination of existing processes, facility designs and value engineering or redesign possibilities, identifying areas that can be immediately actioned. In consideration of (and alignment with) business development goals, an S.O.S will be provided to:

  1. facilitate return on investment
  2. provide sustainable outcomes, and
  3. reduce future environmental compliance risks.

A formal S.O.S. outlines four identified sustainable actions:

  1. The cost to implement
  2. The time required to implement
  3. The benefit to stakeholders
  4. The order of actions to be undertaken

Being prepared with a practical strategy that aligns with both enterprise growth and sustainability goals, as well an increasingly demanding consumer and regulatory compliance environment, will be a key factor in the future sustainability and success of the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry.

As with all projects – especially innovative ones — asking the right questions is key.

  • From green field to brown field projects, which approach is going to yield a greater reduction in carbon emissions?
  • How does the location of a manufacturing building impact power use and carbon emissions?
  • What materials are better for the environment – and how can the latest technologies assist?
  • Is there recyclable material going to waste?
  • Where is power being wasted (used unnecessarily)?
  • Are there other ways to garner power, more naturally, without further impacting the environment in a negative way?
  • And whatever we use for innovative buildings; what is the ultimate cost to the environment over at least 100 years?

“I hope that someone gets my message…” So, what’s your SoS? 


  1. Nigel Topping in “Construction industry accounts for 38% of CO2 emissions” Environment Journal, Pippa Neill, December 16th 2020
  2. Alexia Lidas, Australian Passive House Association (APHA) Chief Executive Officer and prior General Manager of Strategic Innovation and Enterprise at the Australian Institute of Architects, Australian Passive House Association, Instagram post, June 2022.
  3. ISO Guide 82, Guidelines for addressing sustainability in standards
  4. Update of ISO Technical Committee 209 Cleanrooms and Associated Controlled Environments, Journal of the IEST, V. 64, No. 1 © 2021 David S. Ensor, Past Chair ISO/TC 209; Robert Mielke, Committee Manager, ISO/TC 209, IEST Fellow; Jennifer Sklena, Manager, Technical Programs, Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology (Working Group 11, WG11) (02 May 2022)