The “Green Path” not only benefits the environment, but also companies

Environmental protection and innovation go hand in hand, and green solutions do not have to mean a loss of efficiency or increased costs. Quite the contrary, each optimisation of water and energy consumption, or re-use of raw materials translates not only into environmental benefits, but also into entrepreneurial opportunities and ultimately profits for businesses. By opting for such a turn towards a green future, a company not only reduces its carbon footprint, but also saves valuable resources.

For Sanofi, a global biopharmaceutical company specialising in the areas of vaccines, immunology, cardiology and oncology, among others, human health is clearly at the forefront. Sanofi wants to protect, activate and support people struggling with health problems, allowing them to enjoy life to the full. In addition to direct support, other issues that affect health are also important, and so the state of the environment should be one of the main priorities. The modern technological solutions implemented by the company at its production plant in Rzeszow, which is one of 75 in the world, enable the responsible use of raw materials, reduction of waste production, a reduced carbon footprint and improvements in energy efficiency. Sanofi also aims to continuously increase the share of green energy in its production processes. The sum total of these activities translates into creating a greener place for all of us to live in.

Innovations on Polish soil

The production plant in Rzeszów, which was founded in 1985 and produces mainly medicines, has been operating in accordance with the ISO 14001 environmental management standard for 15 years, since it was first introduced.  A modernisation of the plant was carried out several years ago, which brought a number of measurable benefits for the environment. The implementation of energy-saving technologies meant that in 2020 13% less energy was needed to produce one unit of a medicine or dermocosmetic than the year before. Solutions for reducing energy consumption include energy-efficient LED lighting in rooms, a computer system for controlling air conditioning and ventilation parameters, and the use of a 1300 kW heating boiler, which is less energy-consuming than conventional boilers. It is worth noting that in 2020, with a 12% increase in production, overall energy consumption fell by 3%.

The activities undertaken in Poland are part of Sanofi's global strategy aimed at fulfilling the key demand in the field of combating the climate crisis through reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The company has set itself the ambitious goal of reducing emissions by 50% in 2025, compared to 2015. Already, thanks to the implementation of numerous innovations at every stage of production and management, we have achieved a 14.7% reduction in emissions (compared to the third quarter of 2019). In turn, the reduction in heat losses has made it possible to reduce CO2 emissions by 63.1 tonnes per year. Furthermore, the installation of EU7 filters on the plant's air conditioning units, which guarantee high air purity, ensures the absorption of up to 99% of particulates. The adaptations are not limited to the production plant either. The modernisation of the car fleet – replacing the 433 cars used by Sanofi's medical and pharmaceutical representatives on a daily basis – reduced the CO2 emissions associated with their business trips by 20%.

Continuous closure of the circuit

Another important area for the environment is waste management – here too Sanofi can boast of concrete achievements. The amount of municipal waste generated by the Rzeszow plant has fallen by 50% in 2019 after the introduction of, among other things: food containers and reusable cups for employees. The amount of waste ending up in landfill has also decreased significantly, by more than half in the past five years (from 46.7 tonnes in 2016 to 19.8 tonnes last year). As much as 39% of the total waste is recycled and more than half (57%) is incinerated with some energy recovered in the process (by using the heat to generate electricity).

In an effort to improve the quality of waste segregation and reduce the amount of waste generated, the company has abandoned environmentally unfriendly disposable packaging. Plastic cups in coffee machines and water dispensers have been replaced by reusable ceramic cups (each employee received one, and additionally they were placed in common areas), as well as paper cups. Lunches previously served in plastic containers are now served in reusable containers (each employee received a set of three such containers). Plastic cutlery has also been replaced by metal, and wooden coffee stirrers have been introduced, mainly for the plant's guests. Providing water in plastic bottles has been discontinued in line with global trends. Printed magazine subscriptions were replaced by electronic subscriptions in order to reduce the amount of waste paper, and an electronic document flow was introduced throughout the company.

Opening up the recycling routes

Since 2020, Sanofi has been recycling used medicine blister packs in collaboration with an external company. Thanks to innovative methods, both the plastic and aluminium contained in medical blisters can be 100% recovered and recycled. Plastics, which  previously would have become landfill waste, can now be reused to produce, among other things, rubbish bags, flower pots and garden furniture. This way, one of the main demands of a 'closed-loop' economy – the reuse of as many materials as possible – is realised.

Research shows that up to 90% of medical waste in the environment comes from consumers. It is therefore extremely important to educate people on the proper handling of used or outdated medicines. In response to this need, the Consumer Working Group of the Sustainable Development and Corporate Social Responsibility Team at the Ministry of Funds and Regional Policy, of which Sanofi is a member, has prepared the publication "Responsible Consumer – Health". It contains practical information on good habits related to the purchase, use and disposal of medicines. This initiative is part of the company's broader strategy emphasising support, awareness-raising and consumer education.

Without continuous innovation, the Closed-Loop Economy will remain an ecological dream, not an everyday reality

Interview with Marek Ruchała, Industrial Director of the Sanofi Group in Poland

Sanofi's activities are underpinned by a social responsibility not only to provide quality products to customers and safety for employees, but also to protect nature. How is the essence of the company's activity aimed at caring for the environment?
Environmental considerations are a fundamental pillar of Sanofi's activities. In our Environmental Policy, we have set ourselves a number of key environmental objectives: we want to achieve energy efficiency, reduce water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and carry out responsible waste management, both municipal and in relation to expired medicines. In addition to carrying out important annual health and safety analyses, we control, among other things, the consumption of electricity, heat and water.
The showcase of Sanofi's activity in Poland is the Rzeszow Production Plant. What solutions have been introduced to meet the assumptions you mentioned?
There are many of them. We use economical electrical appliances, a special, less energy-consuming boiler and we optimise the operation – all with the aim of reducing energy consumption. Our methods bring the intended results – we are able to increase production with less energy. We are also active in areas that are not only related to production, but also to the daily habits of our employees. In order to reduce municipal waste, we decided to improve waste segregation and reduce the amount of waste. We have achieved this by purchasing lunch boxes and reusable cups for our employees, thus eliminating plastic dishes. We are also influencing the behaviour of our customers – informing patients using our medicines how to buy, use and dispose of medicines correctly.
Reducing municipal waste is one thing. Managing waste generated during production, such as empty medicine blister packs, is a completely different challenge for companies. Is there room for innovation here too?
Definitely! Since 2020, in collaboration with an external company, Sanofi has been recycling used medicine blisters, and we are not talking about insignificant quantities: more than 40 tonnes of such waste are generated annually. All of them were previously burned in waste incineration plants. Today, thanks to innovative methods, both the plastic and aluminium contained in medical blister packs can be 100% recovered and reused. Plastics, which until now have become waste, can now be reused to produce, among other things, rubbish sacks, flower pots and garden furniture.
What are Sanofi's future plans in Poland? Do you want to deepen your environmental activities?
Our pro-environmental activities do not end with what we have already achieved. We are systematically modernising our machine park. We have decided to replace two production lines at the plant in Rzeszów with one new blistering line. Eliminating old equipment, reducing its number and investing in modern machinery, allows us to further save a lot of production resources. We are able to ensure a high level of quality and production with much lower energy consumption. In addition, this year we are investing in a small photovoltaic farm, a "pilot" one could say, and, if this solution proves successful, we are planning to build a large photovoltaic farm next to the plant on an area of approximately one hectare, which will provide another source of renewable energy. I say another source, because at the moment all the energy we use comes exclusively from companies with green certificates, but using solar energy is something more. It is the future of our planet.

Article prepared by TOGETAIR Editors on the basis of the materials provided by the partner.