Green BioPharma at Genentech: Greening labs through volunteerism and collaboration

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How do you get people to change their habits and adopt more environmentally friendly practices? Well, one biotechnology company in the San Francisco bay area, Genentech, seems to have found the answer. By combining the leadership of a few forward-looking advocates with a whole lot of grassroots volunteerism and a foundation of corporate support, the 15,000 employee strong company has made quick progress in bringing green chemistry and sustainability into its research and development labs.

Laboratories have some of the largest environmental footprints of any workplace. The amount of energy, water, and materials consumed in a lab—and waste generated—typically exceeds other environments. For example, a standard laboratory fume hood running continuously will use 3 to 4 times more energy than an average house. Because of this, labs are also an area in which improvements can have the biggest impact.

At Genentech, sustainability goals are a top priority. In 2012, it became one of a handful of companies that have committed to reducing building energy, water, and waste by 20% in two years as part of the U.S. Green Building Council’s California Best Building Challenge. Two of the five buildings that Genentech has committed are research facilities.

But Genentech takes a broader view on sustainability than just recycling and energy efficiency—as important as that is—to include specific green chemistry principles that apply to the biotech industry. It all started when one of Genentech’s EHS Program Managers, Dr. Tse-Sung Wu was introduced to green chemistry through a presentation that Dr. Berkeley “Buzz” Cue—then chair of the ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable—gave at a conference. Dr. Wu’s interest was sparked and he pursued the subject matter through contacts at the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry at UC Berkeley. Dr. Wu saw how green chemistry could be applied at Genentech to further its sustainability efforts in the lab.

As Dr. Wu was envisioning what became the Green BioPharma Program, in the fall of 2011, he sought and received funding for a new role: a Green Chemistry/BioPharma Project Manager. A recently graduated PhD analytical chemist with green chemistry training and experience as an intern in the Genentech labs got the job—Dr. Kristi Budzinski. Dr. Budzinski’s role was to implement a green chemistry inspired program that would engage employees, encourage innovation, provide resources, and develop leaders. Functionally the program would reside within Genentech’s Sustainability Council’s “Green Genes” program, a grassroots sustainability program that started in 2003 and has 1400 volunteer members.

The Green BioPharma Program

“Up to now we’ve had a great sustainability program, but this is the first time we’ve been able to start making inroads into the core work of what we do.” –Dr. Tse-Sung Wu

One aspect of the Green BioPharma Program is to provide voluntary green lab assessments. “We look at everything in the laboratory and give the lab, one, a picture of what its environmental footprint looks like, and two, actions to reduce that footprint based on what they are specifically doing in the lab,” explains Dr. Budzinski. Each assessment covers energy usage, cold storage, waste streams, and procurement policies. Suggested improvements include things like using a new green product, saving energy by turning off unused fume hoods, increasing recycling signage specific to lab type, and making people aware of programs the company has such as surplus chemical sharing program.

So far 15 labs have gone through the assessment, each receiving a “Green Lab” designation upon completion of at least 50% of the action items. The interest has been very high. “It’s almost like there was a pent up demand for this,” says Dr. Wu. “People are very eager to take it upon themselves.” “When we give them the organizational framework, they are very eager to run with it,” adds Dr. Budzinski. addition to the lab assessments, the team is raising awareness of green chemistry through word of mouth opportunities that have in turn spurred innovation. For example, one interested VP of Medicinal Chemistry invited Wu and Budzinski to present green chemistry to their senior staff.  With an understanding of the types of solutions that would resonate with this unit, Wu and Budzinski were able to provide customized information such as alternative solvent selections applicable to medicinal chemistry. The medicinal chemistry team responded enthusiastically. They took it upon themselves to test the proposed solutions, and then went a step further to develop their own green task force that works to test and recommend greener solvents and methods for chromatography.  By raising awareness and uncovering workable solutions, they were soon able convert people initially skeptical to the idea of green chemistry into advocates.

“Six months after our presentation to the medicinal chemists’ all-hands meeting, I was in a research safety team meeting one day and the question was asked, ‘Does anyone have any best practices to share?’ A member of the medicinal chemistry department volunteered, ‘Well, we are doing greener solvents now. Maybe that’s something people would like to know about?’” Dr. Wu recounts. It’s a perfect example of how employees can become “peer resources” for others and share best practices throughout the company.

Another aspect of the Green BioPharma program involves participation in the ACS GCI Pharmaceutical Roundtable. Genentech was integrated into the Roundtable when the company became a member of the Roche Group, an existing Roundtable member, in 2009. Through the Green BioPharma Program, Dr. Budzinski expanded the collaboration by connecting with other Roundtable members and starting a BioPharma focus group in June of 2012. Together, the participating companies are working on a biologic metric for green chemistry—a version of the Process Mass Intensity calculation tool that’s tailored to the manufacturing of large molecule drugs. The focus group is also engaged in developing a green engineering best practices guide for biotech companies.

By leveraging Genentech’s volunteer forces, inspiring employees to innovate, raising awareness in labs, engaging vendors to source greener products, coordinating resources, and collaborating with other companies through the ACS GCI Industrial Roundtable program, Genentech is taking a leadership role in bringing sustainability and green chemistry into the labs. “The core of what we do is to define transformative medicines that will help patients. The goal of this is to make certain we are doing the chemistry just as effectively—we are getting the same or better results—but doing it in a way that benefits the environment,” comments Bruce Roth, VP of Discovery Chemistry.

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