It's Not Easy Being Green: How MilliporeSigma Is Taking Big Steps Toward Smaller Footprints
Jeffrey Whitford, head of sustainability & social business innovation and branding at MilliporeSigma
Being “green” has become the new expectation across many industries, with environmental and sustainability programs now an integral—and necessary—part of an organization’s overall business strategy. While a sustainability mindset is now expected, it’s not something that can be pulled out of a hat overnight. These programs require a comprehensive strategy, proof points to back up value, many iterations, and collaboration with suppliers, customers, partners and other stakeholders.
Making products and operations more sustainable is challenging—but imagine the complexity of executing this process for more than 300,000 products with more than 1.6 million customers. That’s the challenge we face at MilliporeSigma.
As we work to create programs that are grounded in meaningful improvements, we know that sustainability isn’t viewed through a single lens. While in-house projects are an important part of our overall strategy, we’ve found that the secret to maximizing impact is by simultaneously driving sustainability into our product portfolio. With this comprehensive approach, we are introducing and re-engineering products and creating initiatives that ultimately minimize the environmental footprint for us and our customers.
Here’s a closer look at how we’re taking big steps toward smaller footprints through our programs.
Through our Greener Products & Solutions initiative, we integrate sustainability throughout all phases of the product life cycle—from design and manufacturing, to packaging, distribution and recycling.
Design for Sustainability (DfS)
There’s power in improving and reducing the environmental footprint of products from the start. This approach is top-of-mind as we prioritize sustainable design through DfS—our unique process in which we engineer and re-engineer products with sustainability as the key focus.
Our DfS approach consists of three components:
- Development: We apply sustainability principles to new products by using 23 criteria, categorized into seven impact areas, during the development process: materials, suppliers and manufacturing, energy and emissions, water, packaging, usability and innovation, and circular economy.
- Consulting: We leverage our experience and expertise to collaborate with customers on ways to apply green chemistry thinking to their research and operational approaches—driving sustainability in areas ranging from agriculture to household products.
- Re-engineering: We reformulate existing products based on the principles of green chemistry through two initiatives:
- We utilize the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry to re-engineer existing products and provide greener products and tools to customers.
- Our industry-first quantitative green chemistry system, DOZN™, evaluates the relative greenness of chemicals and processes against these Principles. To empower customers with important sustainability data, we also launched DOZN™ 2.0—a free, web-based tool that enables scientists and researchers to calculate how green their own processes and products are, while identifying opportunities to improve and create more sustainable products.
Greener Alternative Products
As scientists and researchers are looking to enhance their lab sustainability, we offer more than 1,100 greener alternatives to help reduce environmental impact—and our portfolio continues to grow. These products fall under four categories:
- DfS-Developed Products: Products that are developed under our DfS Product Development Process and demonstrate significant sustainability characteristics.
- Re-engineered: Products that are manufactured in a way that uses fewer resources, are less hazardous and/or generate less waste.
- 12 Principles Aligned: Products that demonstrate one or more characteristics that align with the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry.
- Enabling Products: Products that help make greener alternatives possible through the research of alternative energy.
An example of a greener alternative under our 12 Principles Aligned category is Cyrene™: a bio-based solvent that is more sustainable when compared to petroleum-based organic solvents, such as Dimethylformamide (DMF) and N-Methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP)—both of which are under increasing regulatory restrictions. Cyrene™ solvent emits significantly less CO2 when compared to NMP—in fact, five times less. As a potential replacement for NMP, Cyrene™ solvent could help save up to 850,000 tons of CO2 emissions globally—this is the scale we’re looking for.
Packaging is a challenge in the life science industry due to requirements for sterile conditions, protection for fragile and temperature-sensitive contents, and additional transportation and safety regulations. We’re tackling the challenge of packaging our products, and recognize the opportunity to enhance it across our organization. The result: our SMASH Packaging Plan—an industry first packaging framework that defines our strategy for driving significant improvements in the sustainability of our packaging by 2022. From this, we set goals to shrink, secure, switch and save packaging.
As part of our goal to reduce our use of expanded polystyrene (EPS) by 20% by 2022, we’re working on implementing a recyclable cooler at our global distribution centers. This innovation can eliminate the equivalent of 29 jumbo jets of EPS waste on an annual basis. This is not a new area for us. For the past 13 years, we’ve been taking big steps in this area—helping customers reuse existing EPS coolers through our return program in the U.S. One project, involving the replacement of EPS inserts with molded pulp inserts, has resulted in 3 million replacements, eliminating 65,000 cubic meters of EPS, or the equivalent of 89 jumbo jets.
Our 300,000+ products are manufactured, quality assured and packed in more than 59 sites and distributed through more than 100 distribution centers. Given this large distribution platform, we’re always looking for ways to reduce the environmental impact, like increasing shipment of products via ocean—a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to air transport. In 2020, we avoided 113,000 metric tons of CO2eq by using sea freight.
We all use single-use plastics in daily life—think plastic water bottles, straws, bags or takeout cups. Despite the benefits they offer, single-use plastics are a challenge for the life science industry, too. The problem remains the same for our customers as it does for consumers: single-use plastics are difficult to recycle.
Recognizing this issue, we collaborated to create the Biopharma Recycling Program—a first-of-its-kind, single-stream recycling program for single-use biopharma plastics, which is available in the U.S. This unique process can recycle nearly all single-use biopharma plastic waste into fully traceable, reusable, non-hazardous plastic lumber products. We reached our 2020 goal of recycling 5,500 tons of single-use plastic waste—the equivalent of 3.5 million kilograms of CO2.
Sights Set on Sustainable Operations
Through our Sustainable Operations programs, we reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), energy consumption, water use and waste impact associated with our operations, which directly improves the footprint of our products. Key efforts include:
- Bringing new capacity onto the grid through a 68-megawatt virtual power purchase agreement, matching 100 percent of our U.S. electricity consumption beginning in 2022.
- Implementing a water management framework that addresses high water-stressed sites and sites that consume more than 70,000m3 of water annually; sites within scope of this goal that have water reduction targets have surpassed their targets.
- Rolling out an industry-leading waste score system that measures the relative quality of waste, reuse and recycling practices at all sites globally, with a goal to achieve a 5% reduction in our waste score by 2025.
- Aiming to eliminate the use of refrigerants in our manufacturing process, replacing them with a benign alternative and significantly reducing our GHG emissions.
Working in an industry that doesn’t often see sustainable innovation scaled, I’d like to think that we’ve made significant progress and set higher standards for performance and impact. While the road to sustainability hasn’t been easy and continues to throw us curveballs, it’s worth it when we take a step back and see the change that we’ve affected—and the impacts we can continue to make as we forge a path toward a more sustainable tomorrow.