A four-step roadmap for ensuring sustainability progress in projects

The worldwide sustainability trend has not gone unnoticed in the pharma industry. All the large pharmaceutical companies have already defined goals on where they want to be in the future. But how do we go from status quo to the future vision and how do we ensure that new and existing facilities meet these goals?

A project can be everything from a new greenfield facility to rebuild of an existing ventilation system. But when you start a new project – no matter the size – it can be difficult to maneuver from the early sketch phase to handover through endless possibilities to end up with a sustainable project. In the pharma industry, GMP is always the main driver and it is thus important to put focus on sustainability from the beginning to find the best integrated solutions.

Building a truly sustainable business is not easy but working with sustainability presents just as many opportunities as it does challenges. Sustainability is not about making things more difficult – it is a way of thinking and behaving which ensures that facilities are designed and built for the future.

Implementing sustainability solutions effectively in a project requires a structured approach that ensures continuous progress. The simple four-step model below is a helpful tool to guide the process of integrating sustainability measures.

Four-step model

1. Setting up requirements

Before you start to develop ideas and evaluate these, you need to lay a good foundation. Everyone involved in the project must know the project’s objectives and challenges. Depending on the ambitions and character of the project these can vary a lot. For example, is there water scarcity in the area of the facility? Does the company have specific goals for reducing energy consumption? What is most important; investment or operational cost? For some companies, social sustainability such as biosafety or indoor climate is more important than the environmental part. The decided targets must be quantifiable, so you are able to compare the different ideas.

You should also consider, if the project should aim for a sustainable certification system (e.g. LEED, BREEAM or DGNB) and which award you want to strive for (silver, gold, platinum). A sustainability certification can ease the process of setting up of requirements, since point system and requirements are already defined.

2.  Idea generation

Depending on scope, size and character of the project, different approaches can help the idea generation. In smaller projects, the idea generation is often made more decentralized, whereas in larger projects, where many stakeholders and professional disciplines are involved, a workshop-based approach is typically the most rewarding method.

In this phase, it is important to address and document all ideas, including ideas which are already implemented and ideas which – for some people – may be common sense. All the ideas will be evaluated later and used to illustrate what has been done to accommodate the targets of the project.

Sustainability ideas, including subjects such as energy optimization and water reduction, are very complex when it comes to GMP areas. It is thus important to activate all the different disciplines. It is important to note, that optimization does not have to be new technologies or procurement of expensive equipment. The best and most rewarding initiatives is often free and only concerns reducing requirements for e.g. the indoor climate or to the room classification.

The ideas generated in the early stages of the project should be collected in a catalog, to which new ideas, which emerges throughout the whole project can be added.

3. Evaluation and prioritization

With a catalog overflowing with ideas, it is now time to do the first cleanup by categorizing each idea with a green, yellow or red label:

  • Green:      “Implemented” or “must be implemented”
  • Yellow:      “Investigation is needed” or “has not been decided on yet”
  • Red:         “Not implemented” or “Declined”

Naturally, in the beginning of a project many ideas will be labeled yellow, since a lot is unknown, but the goal during the project, is to change all yellow ideas to either green or red.


It is important to recognize that not all ideas can become green, since many of the ideas will have the same purpose or even be contradictory. Here, evaluation is a helpful exercise. When evaluating an idea, it is very important to have a basis for comparison. Are you comparing different solutions solving the same challenge e.g. choosing between different chiller solutions and combinations? Or is the idea upgrading an already implemented solution to be more energy efficient e.g. adding an economizer to a steam boiler? Either way, each idea needs to be evaluated against a baseline. The baseline is, with the economizer example, the efficiency of the steam boiler without the economizer. The comparison can be made on the operational cost, CO2 emissions, operational reliability, payback period or other relevant parameters depending on the requirements defined in step 1.

A big challenge when working with greenfield projects is how to set up a baseline for documenting the environmental improvements in the project."

Rasmus Onsberg, Energy Consultant, NNE

But what do you compare a new facility to? A big challenge when working with greenfield projects is how to set up a baseline for documenting the environmental improvements in the project. In a renovation project, you often have before-and-after data on energy and water consumption, but in greenfield projects there is no before. The best solution is to define a baseline facility which contains only what you would normally do, e.g. good engineering practice and regulatory requirements initiatives, and none of the extraordinary sustainable initiatives which are implemented in the project. This baseline calculation represents the “before”. Then a new calculation is made where all additional initiatives is included.

Fig. Energy consumption, CO2 equivalents and water consumption in a greenfield project compared to baseline.

4. Implementation

Good intentions and thorough investigations alone are not enough to ensure that the final project includes the best sustainability ideas. Ideas can easily be lost when changing to a new project phase, if new people are introduced or if the project team is working in silos. When working with pharma projects, GMP is the core focus together with national authority regulations and the idea catalog must thus be followed up on and updated regularly to ensure that ideas already decided upon are revisited and new ideas are documented and investigated.

The linear approach described is not fully representative, but it should to some extent be seen as an iterative process. New knowledge and changes during the project can change the prerequisites for initiatives and a revisit could be needed. New ideas must be welcomed during the whole project phase, though changes as we all know, gets more and more difficult to implement in a project as time goes.

model with arrows