Happy Earth Day!

By Krissy Goelz (@krisgoelz)

Its the 41st annual Earth Day today. The holiday started small, with a Wisconsin teaching day declared in 1970, but today, its celebrated in almost every country on the planet.

(Hey, isnt it great to have at least one holiday that hasnt been co-opted by Hallmark? Oh, wait….)

Were used to hearing about school projects and neighborhood cleanups, and even about big industries being pushed to be carbon-neutral and working on alternative fuels… but what about pharma specifically? What can our industry be doing to be proud of on Earth Day?

Medication Disposal

One of the biggest problems in pharma, vis-a-vis the environment, is the proper disposal of medication. When patients get rid of their extra medication, a few things go wrong. First, they should probably be finishing it, and run the risk of antibiotic resistance if they dont complete their course of therapy. Second, if they throw their medication out, it can be pilfered by addicts or accidentally taken by curious children or animals. Third, if they flush their medication, it enters the water supply full strength, and we end up with hormones, steroids, antibiotics and more – in our water, in our crops, in our animals, in our food, and in us.

Theres a PhRMA-supported National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day thats working to help minimize this issue, and its happening next week. Today, Earth Day, is a great time to remind your co-workers, your local media and the world that you, as a company, support this initiative.


Check out this TED talk by Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund and learn about what other major corporations, outside of pharma, are doing – everything from chocolate companies sequencing genomes to carbon being bought by juice manufacturers.

As he says, these companies are doing it not to be nice, but because its become a pre-competitive issue. It used to be a point of differentiation in terms of marketing, and not much else. Now, theyre realizing that they want to be in business in the future, and that therefore, they want their ingredients and supplies to still be available to them in 20 years. Sustainability is no longer a pleasant altruism: its a business necessity.

If its a necessity for anyone, its pharma. 25% of pharmaceutical drugs are derived from rainforest ingredients. We need these places to stick around, folks.

  1. GlaxoSmithKline has pledged to be carbon-neutral by 2050 – and plans to save $161 million by 2020 in the process of getting there.
  2. For the last 20 years, Merck has had an agreement with a Costa Rican NGO to fund land preservation in exchange for samples of new potential clinical-development compounds.
  3. For more good things that pharma companies are doing for our environment, check out this link.

Were doing great things – but we have to make it more of a focus. Lets spend this Earth Day remembering that, and figuring out how.



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