GlaxoSmithKline Learns the Value of Verification

GlaxoSmithKline Learns the Value of Verification

Image courtesy of GSK

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.

For me, the thing we're proud of is that we can say it's the same quality data, globally.

So whether you're in India, China, the USA, Europe, South America, or Australasia, we know that the quality of that input data is robust and that's what the Carbon Trust has verified.

TH: Having been the first company to get certified through the Carbon Trust, what advice would you offer companies thinking about following in your footsteps?

RP: I think that they've got to want to have a robust system in place and the question they need to ask is why do they want a robust system in place?  We wanted a robust system because we think that without good data, how can we drive real improvement?

So if you want to get a Carbon Trust Standard because you think it's a good thing for corporate social responsibility, I'm not sure it's something you should be doing. You should be asking for a Carbon Trust Standard evaluation so that you can show that your systems are robust and that you're using the data you collect to drive improvement.

TH: Do you think that the significance of it is greater for your employees, or for your customers?

RP: I don't think we actually want to overplay it as a company.  I think we've said that what it's saying for us is the data we've collected, globally, is valid and robust and it's been validated by an external body.

So we know, for example, the 7 or 8 percent that we've reduced in energy over the last couple of years in our company, we know that that's right.  We're not kidding ourselves; we're doing the right things. So when we tell people, externally, we can say then, "Look it's been checked, verified by a highly reputable external body, it's just part of good corporate governance that we're doing this."

I don't think it's something that we would look to leverage beyond showing people that we are actually serious about this and you can trust the data we're reporting.

Image courtesy of GlaxoSmithKline.