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Global Greening - Pay It Forward

By now the term ‘green initiative’ has become a common phrase bantered around the world. From the well-manicured lawns of some of the world’s largest firms, to emerging giants like China, ‘going green’ has become a global buzzword. How did this all happen and what made sustainability programmes sustainable? Large corporations typically attempt to fit their programme into their existing corporate structure. They often appoint a sustainability manager or form a cross-functional team that aligns with their organisation chart. This strategy offers real success at a macro level. Thankfully, there is a multitude of success stories that have grown from this model.

CURRENT INITIATIVES

Take the example of a large Fortune 500 firm, which maintains a green initiative programme designed to reduce the environmental impact of the company’s business practices. Their practices are estimated to keep 120,000 pounds of plastic out of landfills annually and save a forest the size of New York City’s Central Park every two years through the use of 30 per cent postconsumer recycled paper. Another example comes from a small, privately held firm that has a facility which is powered by 100 per cent renewable energy from alternative sources, such as wind and biomass. This offsets carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to 244 passenger cars driven for one year.

These huge initiatives offer readily apparent positive outcomes. Employees may hear of these major initiatives through town hall meetings, company newsletters or annual reports, yet most of us play a very passive role in their creation, execution and maintenance. Is this a mistake, and has our individual creativity within the corporate confines reached a plateau? Has it ever been truly tapped in the first place? Each situation is different, but one common thread is undeniable – it is not only a corporate responsibility to create a sustainability programme, but it is an individual one as well.

Many of us live in a city where the recycling of home products is commonplace. We have recycling bins at home which sit out on the kerb waiting to be collected, or we use designated paper or plastic bins on street corners. At first it may have seemed odd or inconvenient, but as a society we become conditioned to do it. Something so simple has fostered a real paradigm shift. Consider the positive impact your actions made in these increasingly common scenarios. With that in mind, let’s return to the workplace.

Each day, we arrive at our place of business and spend the better part of our day contributing to our company’s goals and, in doing so, sustaining our own personal ones. The industries we serve, be it pharmaceutical, biotechnology or otherwise, occupy a huge portion of our day. Perhaps the industry needs to serve us, or perhaps we need to personally look for ways to create sustainability programmes that start at our desks, on the bench or in the laboratory. Rather than relying on a corporate initiative, be the corporate initiative. Look for ways to make an impact. Just like the recycling examples above, these steps may seem inconvenient at first, but in a short time they will become common practice. Most importantly, this can have a trickle-up effect. Our industry strives to create a better world through better health. A green initiative fostered by each of us speaks to this mission wholeheartedly.

 A Personal Mission
In this day and age, we should all see the environment as our responsibility, and not simply sit back and watch initiatives being born and tested. A young man I met 25 years ago lived in a remote village in the South Pacific. He was a marine biologist who was pondering ways to protect coral reefs. The reefs in his area were being destroyed by both the environment and local fishing habits, which included dynamite fishing. Although he was a scientist, he didn’t look to science to fulfil his dream; he looked to people. Over time, he was able to educate a small number of inhabitants to the danger in continuing these practices, and reached out to local schools and government agencies. In two years, he was the catalyst in creating and developing a programme whereby the local community policed itself, creating marine sanctuaries where the local inhabitants were able to monitor sections of coral reefs and, in turn, receive a modest compensation from divers and tourists. The scientist decided to pursue his dream beyond the confines of that fishing village, and today, he directs the efforts of a global non-profit which offers reef conservation in over 60 countries worldwide.


LESSONS FOR LABS

The laboratory may not be considered an obvious place to develop green initiatives. However laboratories have made significant strides over time to protect employees from harmful toxic reagents. The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) creates standards and regulations to maintain safety in the workplace. While these standards are essential, they often address the challenging environment found in a typical clinical laboratory. Do they foster a true green initiative?

To be fair, their goal is safety. However, the individual actions of each employee are key. Look at your daily activities: what are you doing that could be tweaked slightly to maintain or improve efficiency, while still having a green component? No doubt many of you are sitting in your workplace reading this article. Look around: what can you do to make a difference? Each individual contribution can build incrementally; green initiatives tend to be sustainable when they are created from the ground up, when a need is identified and a solution is created. Even better, these steps can be very simple to implement. It will not invariably need a panel of experts to develop the idea and execute the strategy.

PRINCIPLES IN ACTION

Laboratories serve a vital role both within and beyond the pharmaceutical industry. Research, clinical, speciality or central laboratories all have a stake in this ‘greening’ process.

One central laboratory is currently working to incorporate sample biobanking to conserve valuable blood samples from subjects who participated in clinical trials. Such a proactive process may obviate the need to run future trials when looking at a specific therapeutic area, or at the least, limit the need for a full-scale clinical trial. Does this fulfil a green initiative? In the broadest sense, yes – plus it saves millions of dollars in time and resources – a vital component to sustaining green initiatives.

Another central laboratory has considered how they routinely transported subject specimens from clinical sites to their laboratory. Laboratories are on the front line of receiving and shipping packages to and from clinical sites on a daily basis. These sites are often cramped for space; their personnel have demanding work hours and routinely manage a number of clinical trials concurrently. Laboratories can become a true partner by offering these sites ‘green packaging’. This breakthrough technology offers unique IATA-compliant, storage-friendly designs that significantly reduce shipping cost and storage requirements at the site, while being environmentally sensitive. These green packages contain a prelabelled specimen transport container, an insulated foil liner bag, leakproof plastic bag for specimens, absorbent material sheets and a cool pack. The components should arrive at the site in an easy-to-assemble and pack configuration. This paradigm shift will allow laboratories to do away with bulky, heavy shipping units that take up valuable space and cost considerably more to ship, offering real cost-containment advantages as well – a reduction of over 60 per cent in shipping costs.

CONCLUSION

The theme remains clear: let’s not wait for the green initiative to be implemented. Let’s help create the initative. Each person has the power to make a contribution, regardless of the industry, their education or cultural environment.

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Tim Hynes currently serves as a Senior Director for DaVita Clinical Research. Tim spent several years as a Peace Corp Volunteer in the Philippines immediately following college graduation. Upon his return, he turned his attention to the medical industry. He has managed business development initiatives for various industry leaders in both manufacturing and central laboratory.
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