Ask the expert: Measuring and improving your environmental sustainability efforts with a real-time solution

Ask the expert, Pharmaceuticals   February 03, 2020

How can a real-time temperature monitoring solution help us measure and improve our corporate sustainability efforts?

Businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the contributions they can make, both to emissions reduction imperatives and to tackling the consequences of climate change that are being felt now. Carbon emission reduction plans would need to span the supply chain and involve procurement, packaging, and modes of transport used. 

Pharmaceutical enterprises are increasingly implementing sustainability activities as a positive and visible aspect of their corporate responsibility goals. Many businesses have plans in place to reduce their carbon emissions, often with specific targets in mind. Some are setting ambitious goals, aiming for sustainable water use, waste reduction and recycling, and even carbon neutrality. 

The pharmaceutical supply chain historically has been ripe with waste. This is in a large part, due to a lack of full visibility and control over products as they are traveling throughout the supply chain, siloed data and processes, the many handoff points involved, and a lack of information sharing among stakeholders to identify and mitigate risk. 

Real-time supply chain monitoring solutions that leverage reusable data loggers are enabling enterprises to measure waste and reduce their carbon footprint.

Waste caused by single-use data loggers

Traditionally, enterprises would often resort to temperature monitoring programs that utilize passive, single-use USB data loggers. At the end of their journey, these loggers are removed from a pallet, plugged into a computer, data is uploaded and sent to stakeholders for a review of the shipment, and the device is subsequently discarded.  

For a typical pharmaceutical manufacturer, this might add up to 150,000 traditional, one-time USB loggers that are discarded every year. To visualize the waste involved, a typical USB data logger measures approximately 4.25 inches in length. 150,000 loggers would measure 10.06 miles, the height of Mount Everest. 

Over the course of three years, a global pharmaceutical manufacturer might discard 450,000 single-use data loggers, which would measure approximately 30.18 miles, or the height of three Mount Everest’s, in total. 

For a global supply chain utilizing approximately 750,000 single-use, passive loggers over a five-year period this would translate to around 38,250kg in plastics produced—and discarded (assuming approximately 0.051kg of plastic is used in a single logger). It would also translate to approximately 229,500kg CO2 emissions for the plastics production (assuming approximately 6kg CO2 emissions per 1kg of plastic produced).1

Waste caused by replacement shipments

Another consideration is the operational waste caused by inefficient processes due to a lack of total supply chain visibility. 

With passive data loggers, a temperature deviation may have occurred during shipment. However, this may remain undiscovered until several weeks or months later. Every wasted palette means another replacement shipment must be shipped.

There is an environmental cost associated with the manufacture, transport, and distribution of these replacement products, including water consumption, plastics produced (and discarded), CO2 emissions, and fuel.

A reverse logistics program for the return of reusable data loggers would result in CO2 emissions; however, these emissions are substantially lower than the emissions resulting from plastics production needed to provide a new logger.2

The benefits of real-time temperature monitoring technology

Today, real-time technology is reusable and provides actionable analytics, enabling stakeholders to proactively reduce the carbon footprint of perishable waste, providing business and practical benefits and driving sustainability.

For example, Controlant’s real-time temperature monitoring and visibility solution is threefold and includes reusable data loggers, a proprietary cloud-enabled software platform that delivers shipment and supply chain data on demand, and cost-reducing operational services. Controlant’s 24/7 monitoring and response team (MARS) is available around the clock, 365 days per year, to respond to alerts and proactively work with your designated stakeholders to facilitate corrective action.

If a pallet containing temperature-sensitive products may have been left in a storage room at an airport, which is not adequately temperature-controlled, temperatures start to deviate beyond their designated boundaries. A notification displays in the Controlant cloud platform and is sent to our MARS team, as well as by email and SMS (if preferred) to designated stakeholders, including the freight forwarder. The appropriate airport site personnel are contacted to move the pallets into a temperature-controlled holding area, preventing product damage. 

In addition to the real-time data that a monitoring program provides, longer-term trends and performance analytics regarding particular lanes, points of interest such as airports and harbors, packaging types, and so on, are easily discoverable. Dashboards can now enable pharmaceutical manufacturers and logistics providers to determine where the most substantial risk occurs within their supply chain, and subsequently, to mitigate them. 

Benchmarking your environmental impact

With the data analytics that are possible through a cloud and Internet of Things (IoT)-driven temperature monitoring solution, enterprises can build a tangible plan of action for reducing waste as well as their carbon footprint throughout the supply chain, and then, to implement it.

Through dashboard data, supply chain teams can easily reference the reduction in excursions and shipment rejections resulting from their proactive temperature monitoring and visibility program. With this information, they can tangibly measure their carbon footprint reduction and sustainability savings resulting from fewer plastics consumed and less CO2 emissions produced. 

Consider the global pharma manufacturer referenced above, utilizing approximately 150,000 single-use, passive loggers annually—or, approximately 750,000 over a five-year period. With a reusable program, they are instead able to switch to approximately 35,000 reusable data loggers, resulting in fewer plastics produced and less CO2 emissions due to plastics production. 

Moving forward

External pressure to adopt corporate responsibility programs aside, businesses should not overlook the benefits of adopting innovative solutions as part of their sustainability efforts. Enterprises looking to save money in the long-term by switching to more sustainable solutions and improving supply chain efficiency in the cold chain are now seeing substantial cost and resource savings, which can be allocated elsewhere. As a result, some companies now also consider sustainability performance an essential part of the overall supplier performance equation, in addition to key requirements of quality, cost, and delivery.

As demonstrated above, the potential business benefits of greener supply chains are considerable. Companies that succeed in making their operations more environmentally friendly can expect operational cost savings as a result of less waste, reduced fuel, energy, and transport costs, and a lack of compliance penalties. In 2017, more than 4,800 companies reported supply chain emission reductions amounting to 551 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. This equates to $14 billion in savings and does not factor in the additional cost savings arising out of reduced replacement products and fewer investigative hours spent on reviewing data in the event of an excursion. Moreover, supply chain improvements of this nature invariably enhance an organization’s brand and reputation considerably.

As an industry, we need to recognize the opportunity for key stakeholders to work together to stimulate innovation and technology adoption that can reduce waste, emissions, and the impact of climate change on human health. Although the requirements now needed to make a transformational change may take many years to generate a substantial impact, the journey must start today.

The potential for what can be achieved through technology and collaboration to improve the visibility, efficiency, and sustainability impact on the global food and health supply chain working may literally help shape the future.

How is your organization tangibly measuring and improving its carbon footprint throughout your supply chain? I would love to hear your best practices and lessons learned. 

Have a question? Feel free to send me an email at 


  1. Time for Change, Assumes 6kg CO2 emitted for 1kg of plastics produced.
  2. DHL Carbon Calculator, available at Based on calculations, assumes 0.05kg of CO2 to retrieve one logger from the EU. Assumes 0.1kg of CO2 to retrieve one logger from China. 

About Ada Palmadottir

Ada Palmadottir is Business Development Director at Controlant. With more than 20 years of experience in pharmacy, management, and technology, Ada has extensive international experience in sales, operations, and marketing, specifically in the areas of product, vertical alliance sales, and partnerships related to pharmaceutical products. She is a licensed and experienced pharmacist and earned a Master of Pharmacy from the University of Iceland and a Master of Business Administration from the Norwegian School of Management in Oslo. Ada has been working with Controlant for the last eight years.