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Innovating for the health of the planet and people, starting from the little things

Date: 20/05/2022

Designing a carbon minimal inhaler is a complex challenge: Maria Paola Chiesi talks about one of the most ambitious projects of the Group to reduce its carbon footprint


Frequently, when talking about the environment, we use the metaphor of “planet’s health”, but we seldom think about how the environment is connected to human health. These two aspects go hand in hand: a healthier planet has a positive impact on our wellbeing, and in some cases, people’s health influences that of the planet.


However, medicines and therapies have an impact on the environment and therefore a balance should be found between available treatments, which improve the quality of life or even save lives, and the emissions related to them. So, how can the planet’s and human health be reconciled? In this regard, Chiesi is committed to an ambitious challenge to give a tangible signal to the whole pharmaceutical sector: to become fully carbon neutral by 2035.


Maria Paola Chiesi, Shared Value & Sustainability Head of Chiesi Group, spoke of this and much more in the podcast Unlock The Change, dedicated to the green transformation of Italian companies. “Having analysed our emissions through a detailed inventory, we have identified that even in our case - as almost always happens - most of the emissions depend on our products. We looked to inhalers, the devices that deliver treatments for respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)”, she pointed out.


The challenge, to be more specific, is the high climate-altering effect caused by the propellant gas present in one type of inhalers, the so-called pressurized metered-dose inhalers (pMDIs) or spray inhalers, which serve to release the drugs effectively. As Maria Paola Chiesi specified, “The goal we have set is to replace the current propellant to reduce its impact and make our inhalers more sustainable: it’s a challenge that we believe to be of decisive importance, especially considering that there are hundreds of millions of similar inhalers in the world. As Chiesi, in 2019 we announced a solution to reduce the carbon footprint of inhalers”.


The total contribution of these sprays to global greenhouse gas emissions is currently not enormous in itself – it’s estimated at just under 0.1% - but it is set to increase in the future and the initiative represents a strong signal for the objectives that must be timely pursued in the next future, as well as determining a tangible change. Achieving environmental sustainability is a possible undertaking, to be won for the well-being of all living ecosystems and therefore also of people, including in this transformation process even the smaller things and habits.


“The path to achieving this goal includes a €350 million investment to accelerate the development of Chiesi solution to address the carbon footprint of pMDIs. The first carbon minimal inhaler will be developed by 2025. And by 2030 we expect to be able to extend the availability to every geographic area in which we operate”, added Maria Paola Chiesi.


In short, becoming sustainable for a company does not only mean conforming to the standards set by the law but is also a great opportunity from an entrepreneurial point of view, to be faced with creativity and courage. The value attributed to respect for the environment must certainly be placed at the center of every single business choice, including those that are seemingly less important.


“Changing the most used inhalers for asthmatic or COPD patients is not a secondary challenge”, continued Chiesi, “as it involves at least half of our business. For decisions of this kind to be made, a great determination is needed, since there is a lot of complexity also from the point of view of the economic sustainability of the entire company”.


Furthermore, all aspects related to the efficacy and safety of the drug cannot be overlooked, but obviously must remain well above certain standards: as we are talking about people’s health, no allowances can be made, which further complicates the situation, because the margin for error is very much limited.


Doing good for the planet and at the same time for people is the central aim of the whole pharmaceutical sector, which also needs to comply with more stringent rules and constraints than many other sectors. The commitment is aimed on the one hand at a planet increasingly exhausted by climate change and harmful emissions, and on the other hand to patients and people who – thanks to the treatments – can maintain a good state of health and quality of life. “Thanks to the innovation process we are carrying out, patients will no longer be asked to choose between their health and that of the planet. These are the ideals that we want to share with all our patients, partners, and stakeholders”, she added.


Until very recently, the pharmaceutical sector has always been little involved in the theme of sustainable transformation, precisely because people's health is considered an essential element. Today there is the awareness that this industry has a very strong relationship with the health of the planet because drugs are released into the environment after being used. Therefore, these aspects cannot continue to be neglected, since it is increasingly evident that everyone's contribution is needed to achieve the objectives of eliminating harmful emissions in the coming years.


“Promoting sustainability does not just mean improving it internally but looking at the whole value chain. In particular, we decided to focus on the entire supply chain, to extend our principles to the production”, clarified Maria Paola Chiesi. “To establish common rules to be respected, we also created a code of conduct called the Code of Interdependence, which was co-created with our strategic partners and extended to all our 16,000 suppliers. Now all contracts must comply with this interdependence code, and the supplier qualification process is also based on the values and principles expressed by this code". The next step will be the verification through the audits that will be carried out at the suppliers, and from this year the use of the EcoVadis platform has also been included to monitor - and evaluate based on effective and reliable data - the sustainability parameters of the providers.


Thanks to data and concrete elements, it will be possible to establish increasingly stringent and precise parameters that promote sustainability and the search for solutions that can protect the environment. In such a complex and articulated framework, even a small and everyday object such as an inhaler can make a difference.