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  • Putting People & The Planet First: Sustainability In The Medical Industry
Putting People & The Planet First: Sustainability In The Medical Industry

Putting People & The Planet First: Sustainability In The Medical Industry

We live in an age where looking after our environment, our people and our communities has become a priority for businesses, charities, social groups, governments, and individuals across the world. Science, technology, and innovation are helping to reform many industries as they move towards reducing carbon footprints, reliance on single-use materials and improving the well-being of employees. The medical industry is no different and many pharmaceutical and healthcare companies are doing their bit to improve the health of our planet as we race towards net zero.

Sometimes Sustainability Improvement Requires Changes From The Ground Up

In 2022 Ansell launched a fully integrated sustainability commitment as part of their overall business strategy. Inspired by the Paris Agreement, Ansell’s long-term goals include a zero-carbon output for their supply chain, adopting renewable energy sources, improving innovation, and reducing their dependence on synthetic raw materials. 

The four main areas Ansell is focusing on are:

People: The company mission is “Ansell Protects” and this is aimed not only at consumers but also their employees. Their Medical Treatment Injuries and Lost Time to Injuries numbers are both at 10-year lows while becoming extremely proactive in dealing with COVID-19, with screenings and vaccines readily available for staff. Ansell also focused on increased diversity and inclusion for management, directors and workers while improving employee engagement in safety, branding and customer focus. 

Ansell’s Supplier Management Framework (SMF) was established to drive meaningful change in their third-party supply chain: “Ansell does not automatically cancel supplier contracts upon the allegation of forced labour. Instead, we choose to provide the supplier with the opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to improve working conditions through meaningful action. However, where we identify suppliers who do not align with our labour standards commitment and are not working in good faith to progress positive change in their labour standards compliance, we review our potential options, including finding alternate sources for our product and terminating the supplier relationship.” 

Planet: The Ansell decarbonization strategy has three main areas of focus

  1.  Moving from fossil-based fuels to renewable energy options.
  2. Improved innovation in processes and products, with a desire to eliminate waste and maximise the reuse of resources
  3. Increased collaboration and partnerships to help keep up with the rapid pace of innovation to meet ever-changing customer demands and needs.

Products: 2022 saw the release of Ansell’s first compostable glove, the MICROFLEX 31-103, which breaks down by 90% over the first 6 months. It is manufactured with green electricity and is packaged in compostable polybags.

Also released this year was Ansell’s HyFlex 11-842 multi-purpose gloves which are made from recycled yarn. Coloured using an all-natural tea dye and packaged in paper with a 71% reduction in GHG emissions, the result is that these gloves are 30% recycled overall.

More goals from Ansell include reducing plastic packaging (using paper bands instead), all paper packaging to be made from recycled materials, all used packing material to be recycled, reused or composted plus zero packaging to be sent to landfills by 2023.

Governance: Promote a culture of accountability, integrity and transparency, Ansell has trained:

  • 200 managers on the culture of ethical decision making
  • 4,000 employees on the global code of conduct
  • 3,000 employees on navigating conflict of interest

Ansell is one of the founding members of the newly formed Responsible Glove Alliance (RGA). The RGA was formed to reduce forced labor in the rubber glove manufacturing industry in Malaysia. Focusing on due diligence and continuous improvement practices, the RGAs vision is to protect the rights and dignity of workers.

New Ways the Medical Industry is Achieving Sustainability

Many companies from across the world are coming up with new and exciting methods to look after our environment:

Novo Nordisk, based in Denmark, has designed a way to reuse parts of their diabetes products. Injection pens are broken down and sorted, with the old plastic and lamps being made into office chairs.

Repurposing the surgical blue wrap that comes with surgical instruments is a specialty at Overlook Medical Center in New Jersey. Instead of throwing it away the blue wrap is turned into tote bags for patients to use and there are more ideas to turn the blue plastic into sleeping bags and ponchos for the homeless. On the hospital roof are 10 beehives producing honey for the kitchen and wax for lip balms sold in the gift shop.

In the US, medical device company Abbott is trialing a pilot takeback program that allows customers to return used sensor kits for free, rather than them being thrown out and ending up in landfills.

Not just focusing on packaging and energy use, French-based pharmaceutical company Sanofi, is keen to reuse, recover or recycle up to 90% of the waste produced during drug manufacturing by 2025. They currently sit at 74% waste saved. 

At the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, they donate unused medical supplies to local dog shelters and move unused supplies with a patient when they move rather than throwing them all out.

Dignity Health has introduced schemes where IV bags and tubing are PVC free and at one facility they have set up an 840m2 garden providing food for the hospital café and a nearby retirement home.

Kaiser Permanente in 2020 achieved carbon-neutral status for its 40 hospitals and 727 medical offices by installing solar panels and electric car charging stations at many of its locations and becoming California’s first renewable energy hospital microgrid.

The GloveOn Avalon Nitrile Biodegradable gloves produced by Mun use an organic additive that actively attracts microbes to help break down polymers only when buried in landfill. This accelerated breakdown process is called mineralisation and sees gloves decompose up to ten times quicker than traditional Nitrile disposable gloves. The organic additive used has no effect on the quality and strength of the gloves and is only activated once it is in landfill.

SSS Australia and Sustainability

Our goal is to minimise harm and maximise the benefit to the environment, our customers, and our local community. SSS Australia focuses on three main sustainability areas:

1.    Waste Reduction

  • Waste presses in our warehouse have reduced polyethylene waste by 60%
  • All cardboard and paper packaging is recycled
  • All timber pallets are reused and recycled

2.    Carbon Reduction

  • Paperless warehouse picking due to the implementation of barcode scanners
  • 99% of all customer statements are sent electronically, less paper and mail service required
  • Our account processes will be paperless by 2023

3.    Active engagement

  • Ensuring our supply chains use environmentally and socially responsible practices
  • Staff are encouraged and rewarded for contributing to our sustainability commitments
  • SSS Australia chooses to audit and report progress against sustainability goals as part of our annual Quality Assurance internal audit process.

Big pharmaceutical and medical companies are recognizing the challenges and spending big money to make the move towards protecting the environment and future generations. SSS Australia is committed to ensuring we opt for the most sustainable options in our business operation, and there is no modern slavery in our supply chain. Consumers can do their bit by buying from ethical and responsible organisations and making a conscious effort to make more sustainable choices.

Let’s keep working together for a better tomorrow.

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