What should our future look like?

On the first of two posts from some of the organisations and companies behind the Green Laboratory Work online conference that took part in May 2022, we find out what options are there to make your laboratory more sustainable. Don't miss the next post, which will focus on career benefits.
What should our future look like?
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Green Laboratory Work banner

This is what we associate with green. How about you? 

What do you associate with green laboratories?

  • Remember, a single lab can save up to 516kg of plastic each year.
  • If every second lab joins, we can reduce our carbon emissions equivalent to the equivalent of 1.3 Million cars.
  • And, importantly, it would mean improving your own attitude to your work.

Welcome to a first dive into sustainable laboratory work – see you on the other side!

What exactly is green laboratory work?

You’re working in science and you’re excited about what you’re doing. Your research helps to cure diseases, delivers new insights on cell metabolism or creates innovations to fight climate change?

So why should you bother about sustainability when labs are about science?

Lab impact image from NIUB

Have you ever thought about the negative impact of your work? Unfortunately, science has a big carbon footprint. When you enter your lab building in the morning, you enter a building that uses on average 3 – 5 times more water and energy than a normal office building. You’re working on the hood or open the door to your -80°C freezer? These are just two examples of energy guzzlers, with each one using more energy than a single-family house. And when you leave the lab in the evening, there’s this bag full of plastics: no wonder that 5.5 million tons of plastic waste are generated each year in the life sciences labs. But if you go through the lab with open eyes, everyone can change to more sustainable routines like switching off all the instruments that are on STAND-BY, turning off the water bath not in use, or using glass pipettes instead of plastic.

This is the main idea of the Ecomapping™ method: first everyone goes through the lab, focuses on one specific aspect, like energy consumption, and writes down their observations and ideas for improvements. On a second step, you put all your ideas together, discuss them and then – take action!

Try it out and make your contribution to a greener and more sustainable lab!

Dr. Kerstin Hermuth-Kleinschmidt, NIUB

Using the Lab Sustainability Ecosystem to Go Green

Efforts to conserve laboratory space, time, energy, and materials utilize science funding responsibly and reflect scientists’ respect for nature. But where can you find actionable insights?

Here is a quick orientation. 

Knowledge on lab sustainability is now within reach for biologists. That wasn’t always true. As the editor of Labconscious.com, from New England Biolabs® (NEB), I’ve been lucky to write about the greening of life science work. Biologists are welcome to subscribe for monthly green lab tips and in-depth trends. We also publish open access lists of green teams, uniquely green lab supplies, free tools, and resources for best practices. NEB scientists support this sci comm for environmental stewardship.

Labconscious overview image

Many universities and life science companies now have lab sustainability groups. These teams typically include staff and student scientists, as well as communications, facility operations, health and safety staff. The scientist is core to the mission. They can verify that an initiative will not limit the science being done. The whole team must demonstrate to leadership that initiatives are achievable.

It's easier to find the best fit solutions when you can see what’s possible. Green lab sustainability teams can use external programs like LEAF or My Green Lab®, and/or contract consultants to identify opportunities for improvement. Both programs provide self-assessments, case studies, training, and networking. LEAN and Green Your Lab networks offer excellent online forums. 

To be fair, we all must work within the reality we’re in. That means eco-friendly efforts will be limited by local infrastructure, safety regulations and costs. The good news is that some basic steps can reap environmental and cost savings. These savings can be re-invested into larger efforts. It starts by acknowledging our responsibility as scientists.

Nicole Kelesoglu, Labconscious

Building a global culture of sustainability in science

The worldwide scientific research sector is vast and growing, developing new technologies and advancing our understanding of the world. The massive economic impact of the scientific industry is unfortunately matched by an outsized environmental impact, which will also continue to grow if the industry does not rapidly change. There are millions of laboratories around the world, and they typically use five to ten times more energy per square meter than office buildings. Labs also produce 12 billion tons of plastic waste annually.

My Green Lab’s mission is to build a global culture of sustainability in science to transform the industry into a leader in environmental sustainability. Through education, community engagement, and market-leading certification tools, My Green Lab inspires the scientific community to integrate sustainability into everything they do.

My Green Lab overview

A GLOBAL COMMUNITY OF SUSTAINABILITY LEADERS

The green lab movement envisages a future where sustainability is placed at the center of the knowledge and technology laboratories produce. My Green Lab’s educational initiatives, the My Green Lab Ambassador program, and the Accredited Professional course aim to empower green lab enthusiasts to bring sustainability principles into their work and research.

With courses exploring topics from green chemistry to procurement to waste management, My Green Lab’s education program offers comprehensive content to explore myriad opportunities to practice science sustainably. They offer scientists an opportunity to grow their knowledge and demonstrate their expertise in lab sustainability.

WORKING WITH THE MARKET FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

As sustainability is a growing focus of the science industry and more universities and companies are announcing zero carbon initiatives, there has been an increasing need to address the impacts of research: the operation of labs and the lab product supply chain.

From cancer research to toxicology testing, sustainability-oriented green labs have the upper hand in a market increasingly dominated by sustainability-conscious consumers and suppliers alike. My Green Lab’s flagship programs, the My Green Lab Certification and the ACT Label for Laboratory products, are designed to provide scientists, lab product manufacturers, and the teams that support laboratories with actionable ways to make meaningful changes.

My Green Lab’s programs offer tried-and-true methods to dramatically reduce the environmental impact of scientific research without disrupting the important work underway.

Namrata Jain, My Green Lab

Read the second of this two-post series on the Green Laboratoty Work conference, Everything for your career – sustainably, which highlights how sustainable labs can support your career development.


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash 

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