Distributors' Sustainability Efforts: Protecting Patients and the Planet

June 22, 2021

A new report estimates that the overall health costs of climate change already exceed $820 billion each year. The healthcare sector alone is responsible for nearly 5 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. According to a December 2020 Health Affairs study, “health damages stemming from U.S. [healthcare] pollution in 2013 [are] on the same order of magnitude as deaths from preventable medical errors.” Unfortunately, many of the most vulnerable communities are impacted by the harmful effects of climate change.

America’s healthcare distributors recognize our responsibility to protect our planet and drive meaningful actions on climate change. In fact, our industry views it as an extension of our commitment to the health and safety of the communities we serve.

Distributors’ role within the pharmaceutical supply chain and our industry’s ongoing efforts to streamline operations and drive efficiency is one way we are helping to limit carbon emissions within the healthcare sector. Without distributors, manufacturers would need to maintain separate relationships with every pharmacy and hospital in America to coordinate the delivery of their products, which would mean significantly more delivery vehicles on the roads and higher emissions as a result.

However, much more can, and must, be done. Here are some of the positive changes distributors are taking to help ensure the well-being of our planet — and ultimately patients.


Reducing Greenhouse Gases (GHGs)

HDA distributor members are keenly focused on route reductions and optimization, which includes centralizing, aggregating and shifting deliveries in collaboration with partners, with the goal of reducing the industry's carbon footprint.

Recent projects and reductions include the following:
  • AmerisourceBergen's investments in energy efficiency projects and innovations decreased total greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 10 percent in FY 2020.
  • Cardinal Health’s energy efficiency projects saved approximately 3,900 metric tons of CO2 in FY 2019 — and, as reported in their FY20 Corporate Citizenship Report, the company plans to set a public GHG reduction goal for the pharmaceutical distribution business.
  • Henry Schein’s work to modernize their fleet reduced emissions-per-vehicle by 28 percent since 2008.
  • As part of the company’s strategy and actions toward better health, McKesson has committed to establishing science-based greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets for scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions that are intended to meet the standards of the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). Direct emissions from the consumption of natural gas, heating oil, diesel fuel and gasoline decreased by 18 percent from FY19.

Decreasing Energy Consumption While Investing in Renewable Energy

HDA members also are focused on reducing energy use and finding alternative sources for energy in their distribution centers and offices across the country.
  • AmerisourceBergen invests in energy efficiency improvements, including lighting upgrades; specifically, they recently completed a LED retrofit at their Ohio location, estimated to save 17 percent of the facility’s electricity consumption annually.
  • Cardinal Health’s solar energy installations contributed more than 1,355 megawatt-hours of solar production from their facilities and announced they would begin purchasing renewable energy for certain sites in FY 2020.
  • Henry Schein’s headquarter buildings in the United States have LEED Silver Certifications, and total LEED-certified square footage at its sites amounts to 285,000.
  • McKesson signed a two-year agreement to purchase local, physical renewable energy that will provide 40 million kWh of energy in Texas.
  • Medline invested $12.6 million in solar energy globally and has built a portfolio of 1.2 million square feet of solar rooftop space holding 24,000 solar panels.

Innovating Sustainable Packaging and Reducing Waste

Finally, our member companies are taking steps to enhance their waste management and shipping programs.
  • AmerisourceBergen uses a sustainable, cold-chain packaging solution that includes reusable totes and plant-based ice packs across their human health distribution centers.
  • Cardinal Health continues to deploy their Total Waste Management initiative, a forward-thinking solution providing a comprehensive waste management platform for its enterprise operations; to date, the program has resulted in 125 tons of waste annually diverted from landfill for beneficial reuse.
  • Henry Schein donated more than $7.5 million in healthcare products to medical and health organizations to keep thousands of tons of imperfectly packaged products out of landfills in 2020. By 2025, it will decrease the landfill waste disposed by its North American distribution centers by 5 percent over 2020 metrics.
  • McKesson’s recycling projects in FY20 resulted in diverting 120 tons of furniture and other office items from landfills.
  • Medline’s device-reprocessing unit, Medline ReNewal, reprocessed more than 5 million instruments, diverting more than 1 million pounds of waste from landfills in 2019.
Each segment of the pharmaceutical supply chain must do their part to reduce their carbon footprint, and HDA members take that responsibility to heart. With distributors’ 360-degree-view of the healthcare supply and laser focus on optimizing efficiencies within it, distributors are committed to collaborating with our public- and private-sector partners to protect the planet for generations to come.