As a CFO, there are many things I love about April — the return of warm weather and the start of golf season in Boston, and of course, the opportunity to recognize Earth Day (April 22). Recognizing Earth Day every year at Vertex gives us the opportunity to reflect on what more we can do — individually and as a company — to address climate change and work toward restoring our earth, which is this year’s Earth Day theme.
According to the World Health Organization, climate change is the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century. I’m proud of the work Vertex Pharmaceuticals has done, and continues to do, to address this threat and have a positive and sustainable impact in the communities where we work and live. We’re committed to reducing our environmental impact because we believe responsible practices contribute positively to healthy communities and economies. It’s part of our commitment to health, safety and sustainability, and that hasn’t changed even during this pandemic.
We reduced our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 39% globally from 2015 to 2019 and established a new target to further reduce them by an additional 20% by 2023 (using 2018 as a baseline). It’s an ambitious goal, but we can achieve it.
In 2020, we demonstrated responsible management and coordinated action on global climate change disclosures and accomplishments from the CDP Climate Change survey. CDP evaluates nearly 10,000 companies on how they manage environmental impacts, using 11 key indicators to measure progress. Vertex received a “B” overall and had the highest possible scores for our efforts in emissions reduction initiatives, climate change governance, and business strategy and financial planning. This puts us above the biotech and pharma industry average "C" score.
And there’s more.
Maximizing Renewable Energy
One of the ways we’re working toward our GHG emissions reduction goal is through renewable energy. Renewable energy is energy from sources that naturally replenish (like the sun and the wind) but can be limited in the amount of energy available per unit of time. The major sources of renewable energy are biomass, hydropower, geothermal, wind and solar, but these sources together still make up just a fraction of overall energy use in the U.S. and globally.
We need to continue to tip the balance toward renewable energy, which is why both our London and Oxford, U.K., sites now source 100% renewable electricity. Last year, our San Diego facility began installing solar panels to take advantage of the sunny California weather. We expect these solar panels to supply up to 20% of the building’s energy needs by 2023. This is in addition to being a LEED Gold certified building.
Reducing Plastic Pollution
We’re also taking action to reduce plastic pollution. Single-use and disposable plastic is often a common part of a research/lab environment, and we’re fortunate to have a group of sustainability-minded employees dedicated to identifying and pursuing consumables and waste reduction initiatives. Last year, our Boston headquarters launched a partnership with an organization that specializes in medical bio-waste recycling, turning plastic disposable lab supplies into more environmentally-friendly materials like plastic lumber. In our Boston labs last year, we recycled approximately 80% of all solid bio-waste produced, which equals more than 50,000 pounds of plastic disposable lab waste. I love thinking about how our petri dishes can come to life anew as lumber for a bench.
At our San Diego and Oxford, U.K., facilities, we also launched several new programs in 2020 to continue to minimize our waste footprint. In Oxford we’re sourcing more sustainable lab products, like reusable filters and materials that don’t require disposable pieces. In San Diego, we initiated a pipette tip recycling program and started purchasing centrifuge tubes without the Styrofoam packing.
We’re not just focused on reducing plastic, since 2015 we’ve sent zero waste to landfills from Oxford. And last year, we replaced 20,000 single-use boxes with reusable, thermal boxes for patient deliveries and eliminated the equivalent of 78,000 kg of waste.
Fighting Food Waste
Did you know that food waste takes up more space in U.S. landfills than any other single type of trash? One of the ways we fight food waste at Vertex is through composting. Each of our major sites have several café containers for composting food scraps, and on Earth Day this year, we’re expanding the range of compostable containers in our Boston café.
But composting won’t solve all of our food waste problems. We also work closely with our café suppliers to make sure we’re not purchasing too much food, and in Boston we’ve been partnering with a local nonprofit to donate unused food since 2019. Food for Free is an organization that rescues unused food that might otherwise be discarded, which simultaneously reduces food waste and provides access to fresh produce and healthy meals for emergency food programs and individuals in need. Once the lunch rush ends, team members transfers leftovers to the freezer to ensure the food to be donated stays in a safe temperature zone until it’s able to be picked up for redistribution.
Restoring Our Earth Starts With Everyone
None of this is easy. It takes time. It’s about continuous improvement. And new ideas. We’re fortunate to have employees who, in addition to their regular jobs, continually help us identify and pursue new ideas to lessen Vertex’s environmental footprint. This includes local, employee-led “green teams” in Boston, London (for all our international employees) and San Diego to help promote sustainable practices and drive employee engagement at the grassroots level.
With nearly 8 billion people inhabiting this earth, imagine the change we could make if everyone did just one thing to reduce their environmental impact. That’s why for Earth Day this year, we’re encouraging all Vertexians to take action to help restore our Earth. We’ve curated a list of individual actions, such as collecting rainwater to use in a garden, shutting down and unplugging computers at night, and switching to reusable grocery and produce bags. For every action completed, Vertex will donate to plant a tree to extend our individual impact.
To read more about Vertex’s sustainability initiatives, check out our 2020 Corporate Responsibility Report.
For more actions and tips to make a difference, every day of the year, click here.
To contribute to ‘A Billion Acts of Green’ this Earth Day, click here.