GlaxoSmithKline Learns the Value of Verification

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) wants to make its entire value chain carbon neutral by 2050.

The pharmaceutical giant isn't sure exactly how it's going to get there, but it has laid out short-term targets and plans to work with suppliers to reduce the impacts of its top products.

And the company knows very well that you can't manage what you don't measure: If your underlying data is unreliable, it makes it that much more difficult to truly foster improvement.

So when GSK earlier this year became the first company to achieve a global certification from the U.K.-based Carbon Trust, it showed just how committed the company is to achieving its goal.

To get the certification, the company had to prove the accuracy of its carbon footprint data for 200 sites operated by eight business units in 65 countries over a three-year period. GSK also had to show it was reducing emissions -- the company cut its absolute carbon footprint by 4 percent -- and demonstrate solid carbon management practices, which would include the 1,400 efficiency projects under its belt since 2007 and a 2015 goal to trim emissions by 10 percent.

Last month, I caught up with Richard Pamenter, GSK's head of environmental sustainability, for a wide-ranging conversation about the company's sustainability program and what the Carbon Trust certification means for the company. Below is an edited excerpt from our discussion. Richard Pamenter

Tilde Herrera: What was it like to get the Carbon Trust Standard?  You're the first company to do that, so it is a very big achievement.  

Richard Pamenter: I think this is a reflection on the people that have been operating in this space in GSK for a number of years. What was put in place five or six years ago was, effectively, a data system that allowed us to collect the energy usage, the Scope 1 and 2 energy usage, from all our manufacturing facilities, our research facilities, and our commercial facilities. It is a system that is able to collect all the data you need to actually assess your Scope 1 and 2 emissions. I think there was a bold decision taken several years ago to put that system in place.

I think the next bold decision was then to say, "You know, we're actually going to follow through and we're going to put some governance in so that we know that everyone in GSK is actually inputting that data to the system at the right frequency, with the right level of integrity." That was a bold move by some people about five years ago to put the system in place not just to collect the data, but also to ensure that the data is robust.

And that was an exercise in good governance, good management and hard work that got the company to a place where people use and populate the systems with data we can rely on, just like we can rely on financial data or production data.

So then when the Carbon Trust came along, we asked the Carbon Trust to verify us globally. It was a matter of working with Carbon Trust, in a normative process, so that we knew that that data we'd collected was as robust as we thought it was.