Striving for Carbon Footprint Benchmarks

Applied Clinical TrialsApplied Clinical Trials-05-01-2023
Volume 32
Issue 5

Insights from recent industry events clear path for companies to identify how their internal practices could be harming the environment.

Earlier in the year, I wrote about efforts afoot to reduce the carbon footprint of clinical trials. In regard to sustainability and the environment, however, this is not a one-and-done solution. In fact, most pharmaceutical companies find it difficult to know where to start when addressing their internal practices that negatively impact the environment, but starting with CO2 emissions is a good beginning.

To that end, Janssen’s Clinical Innovation Team presented its own carbon footprint contributors at the Clinical Trials Europe 2022 Informa event six months ago, with the following results from a recent Phase I trial, reflecting share of CO2 emissions: patient journey, 30.8%; trial site utilities, 15.5%; Janssen staff commuting, 14.6%; patient accommodation, 11.8%; Janssen facility utilities, 7.5%; trial site staff commuting, 5.2%; testing kits, 5.2%; drug product, 4.7%; samples, 4.6%; external meetings, .1%.

It is this ability to measure and quantify that companies can initiate their journey for change with informed benchmarks. Such is the goal of the Pistoia Alliance’s Clinical Trial Environmental Impact Community of Interest, launched in mid-October 2022. According to its website, the goal is to identify key drivers for carbon footprint in a clinical trial, develop metrics with estimates of each for a “typical” clinical trial, and then users of this dynamic model will be able to turn on and off key parameters, such as patient engagement, decentralized clinical trials (DCTs), and patient diversity activities in order to see the impact of each on carbon footprint.

This ability to turn on and off parameters makes it important to understand the unintended consequences of choices. For example, while DCTs may be desirable from a “patient journey” aspect of getting to and from a site, the downstream effect of drug delivery to the home could include emissions in the form of transportation, as well as eco-insufficient packaging choices.

At the Pharma 2023 Reuters event in April, a panel discussed this very conundrum. With the focus on climate change, one expert warned “If we change something, we need to ensure that we are not going to degrade the environment in another way.”

Panelists also discussed where companies should start their efforts, and all agreed: it starts with commitment, collective action, and a collaborative effort to share progress and standards.

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