Top 20 Things Your Lab Can Do to Reduce its Carbon Footprint
A simple guide to making your research endeavor more sustainable.
Reduce your Hazardous Waste Stream
Recycle and Re-purpose your Hazardous Items
Reduce your Non-Hazardous Waste Stream
Use Water Conservation Plumbing Fixtures
Refurbished Lab Equipment
Incorporate Degradable Plastic Alternatives
Maximize the Number of Purchasing Contacts Offering Green Solutions
Reconsider your Chemicals
Clean House and Manage Samples
Promote Natural Resources
Incentivize Efforts Amongst your Peers
Education is the Key
Green Up the Office Areas
Locate your Nearest Recycling Center
Reduce Transportation Costs
Spread the Word
By reducing energy consumption in your lab, you’ll contribute to reducing global greenhouse emissions. Here are a few simple steps to consider…
- Turn off lights when leaving
- Use fluorescent lamps for specific areas
- Install automatic sensors around unfrequented areas (shared equipment rooms)
- Keep an 18” sash height while working
- Shut your sash when leaving
- Move items blocking the fume hood sash (ex: stands, gloves, tubes, etc.)
- Put storage items in cabinets rather than fume hoods
Computers & Laptops
- Use standby mode for period of inactivity of 30 minutes or more
- Turn off your computer when leaving for the day
Refrigerators and Freezers
- Defrost freezers annually to eliminate frost buildup
- Keep a cleared radius of 3” to reduce the heat load
- Clean refrigerator & freezer coils to maintain efficiency
- Turn off power strips and unplug unused devices to sojourn ”vampire” electronics
- Examples: Centrifuges, fans, monitors, printers, water baths, thermocyclers
- Appraise Energy Star ratings prior to purchasing new instrumentation
- Substitute stairs for the elevator
- Combine items to run fuller loads in automatic glassware washers or autoclaves
At UC Irvine for instance, Gross Hall uses motion sensors that lowers the rate of ventilation to two to four air changes per hour when there are no people sensed in a lab. Detectors also ratchet up the ventilation when particulates or volatile solvents are detected and sound an alarm if dangerous levels are reached. In a smart lab, air changes vary from two to 10 per hour based on sensed conditions and occupancy. High-efficiency fume hoods, low-energy lighting and energy-recovery ventilation systems as well as recycled construction materials are all incorporated in this highly applauded approach to energy conservation.
10-20% of the energy bills of large labs come from lighting fixtures, often used in unfrequented areas such as pcr prep rooms, shared heavy equipment areas and cell culture stations. By only turning on the light switches that you need, utilizing task lighting, and removing bulbs in overly lit areas of your lab (aisles, desks with task lamps, break rooms) you will receive significant savings on utilities. Make an effort to evaluate how much light you need and intentionally remove bulbs in over lit areas. Each bulb uses 50-60W. Once removed, your lab will save about $20 per fixture per year. Bulbs may be re-lamped at any time if desired.
UCSB LARS/LabRats has instituted such a program and have significantly saved critical capital for their institution.
Refurbished Lab Equipment:
Employ strategies to keep existing equipment well maintained. Should a replacement be needed, consider refurbished equipment rather than purchasing new items. Many local companies offer re-used and refurbished laboratory equipment. Simply perform a search under used laboratory equipment and you will be surprised at the selection and savings you will encounter. And don’t forget to donate usable items to your local school laboratories.
Adopt an internal share-ware group within your research institution. For example, Columbia University’s Environmental Stewardship program has instituted a Columbia Re-Use Program, allowing fellow colleagues and labs to post information and swap out un-used equipment and furnishings…
Reduce your Non-Hazardous Waste Stream:
- Identify products that require smaller packaging. Always consider re-usable items before purchasing disposables.
- Paper waste constitutes over 25% of the waste generated in laboratories, so consider protocols provided electronically, electronic entry of data, sharing of paper information, and of course, installing recycling bins within your lab.
- Before you toss something into the trash, stop to think if it can be recycled. The Sustainability Directors at Mt. Baker Bio are here to help guide you.
- Wherever and whenever possible, consider shareware, freeware or simply talk to other colleagues before you purchase new materials.
Harvard Recycling is laying down a new challenge: Zero Waste by 2020. To achieve Zero Waste, all material must be reused or recycled back into the natural environment. Harvard’s community has proven it is indeed possible. Over the past few years, many Zero Waste events have been held across the University with impressive results.
Reduce your Hazardous Waste Stream:
Does that culture flask really need to be autoclaved? Consult with your EH&S professional to identify methods to decontaminate waste prior to disposal. The cost saving will be dramatic if you dispose items in the general trash rather than through the hazardous waste stream.
Identify the assays and applications your lab uses that generate hazardous and infectious waste. Consider options to consolidate various activities minimizing the use of hazardous components in your work. Research various alternatives readily available to replace chemicals, radioisotopes and other noxious components from your work stream. Lastly, implement recycling and shared-use programs within your organization (see Recycle/Re-purpose your Hazardous Waste).
Princeton University uses these guidelines when approaching the goal of reducing hazardous waste:
- Elimination - any modification that results in the elimination of waste generation.
- Substitution - replacement of hazardous substances with less hazardous materials.
- Scale Reduction - a reduction of the amount of hazardous materials used in a procedure.
- Recycling - the reuse of waste materials either back into the same process or into a different process.
- Reclamation - any process that allows materials to be used again after some sort of purification, such as solvent distillation.
- Treatment - an additional step added to an experimental or analytical procedure to reduce or eliminate the toxicity of the waste.
Establish a recycling program within your lab. Mt. Baker Bio’s Green Lab Program will provide free consultation to help you get started. Model the program similar to the household recycling program you use at home…. Metals, paper, plastics, glass. Batteries, e-waste… etc. If your institution does not provide this service, we can assist your lab in setting one up quickly.
Mt. Baker Bio will help assess your particular situation, provide a consultation walk-through, provide installation of recycling and repurposing solutions, as well as staff education programs.
Under Mt. Baker Bio’s Green Lab Program we perform the following:
- Reuse: Plastic tip boxes are sterilized, re-filled and re-used by various labs.
- Re-purpose: Polypropylene re-grind is used to make new lab products such as tube racks and Ergoeasel™ Molecular Workstations.
- Recycle: Any extra plastic is recycled using direct local recycling partnerships.
Yale University for instance has independently set an aggressive goal of increasing their already comprehensive recycling program by 25% by 2013.
Incorporate Degradable Plastic Alternatives:
Mt. Baker Bio produces and offers biodegradable lab essentials such as microcentrifuge tubes, conical tubes, pipette tips, serological pipettes and much more. Mt. Baker Bio has not altered the quality, functionality or shelf life of plastic laboratory consumables. We have simply made them look like food to the microorganisms that assist in the biodegradation process. Once our plastic product waste enters the landfill environment, they attract the organisms responsible for biodegradation and consumption of the plastic product begins.
At present, more and more laboratories are converting their lab essentials to biodegradable and Designed to DegradeTM (D2D) plastics. Given these products perform identically to standard polycarbonate, polystyrene and polypropylene labware… and there is no cost differential…. D2D products allow you the advantage of using products that will degrade over accelerated time periods in landfills. More information here
Maximize the Number of Purchasing Contacts Offering Green Solutions:
Although many of the essential items you procure and use are sourced exclusively through your preferred life science suppliers, consider other options as well as general housekeeping articles provided by your local retailer.
Stanford University for example enacted a Sustainable Purchasing campaign which drew record participation. In its first week, the One Less, Save More sustainable purchasing campaign, the fourth offering in the Be Cardinal Green series, recorded record participation from the Stanford Community. The Procurement organization, in collaboration with the Office of Sustainability, launched the campaign to promote purchasing habits at Stanford that minimize negative impacts on the environment while appropriately supporting teaching, learning, and research needs.
Use Water Conservation Plumbing Fixtures:
What works well in the shower at your house also serves well in the lab. Install water flow-rate controls (aerators) at faucets to reduce your consumption of this valuable resource.
Reduce rinse times if possible (without affecting product quality in your application).
Since many common-use reagents have a limited shelf-life, consider using smaller carboys to reduce the amount of liquid waste your lab will generate when restocking reagents.
Overhaul faulty steam traps on steam sterilizers.
Reverse osmosis (RO) water is commonly used in lab experiments, but the RO process is very wasteful with as much as 90 percent of the water discharged as wastewater. Some universities have recirculated this water back through the RO system or used the discarded water as non-potable water in other areas. Possible uses include flushing toilets, watering landscape plants or as cooling water for autoclaves.
Promote Natural Resources:
Assess and rearrange your lab space to benefit from natural light and airflow. Natural light will reduce your heat bills in winter and reduce the number of required light fixtures in your labs and office areas. Likewise proper airflow will cut down on heating costs in winter. Apply window film in warm seasons to reduce excess solar heat in your lab.
For example, the Nidus Center for Scientific Enterprise, located on Monsanto's Creve Coeur research campus, features day lighting and lighting controls for energy efficiency and occupant comfort. A 30% reduction in energy use was achieved compared to what could have been expected from a conventional lab building.
Recycle and Re-purpose your Hazardous Items:
Rather than simply dispose of hazardous chemicals, many protocols exist to allow your lab to deactivate, reclaim or neutralize noxious substances. Hexane, Ethidium Bromide, Paraffin, Silver Nitrate and many other substances may be pre-treated prior to disposal. For further information, speak to your EH&S representative. King County offers and excellent guide to managing lab wastes. You can download the 2012 version of the King County Lab Waste Management Guide here.
Start an internal re-use program within your organization. Sharing chemicals will reduce your overall purchase of new items. Take for instance the programs in place at UC Santa Barbara.
Reconsider your Chemicals:
In the advent of advanced methodologies, many ubiquitous reagents and chemicals may be replaced with more eco-friendly alternatives.
The Green Chemical Alternatives Wizard offers a resource of information. This web-based tool, developed at MIT under a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, allows individuals to search for alternatives to hazardous chemicals commonly used in laboratories. The wizard may be accessed here.
Clean House and Manage Samples:
Many lab freezers run at temperatures down to -80 degrees Celsius. A single freezer can use as much electricity as a typical house. Most academic institutions power close to 1,000 of these units. By consolidating items and performing periodic housecleaning, many of these freezers (or any high consumption storage unit) can be decommissioned for energy savings.
Take for instance UC Davis. They determined many frozen items don’t need the deepest freeze, and lab managers estimate that up to 30 percent of the items in freezers are expired or obsolete. UC Davis is working on a national Freezer Week contest to promote and incentivize good sample management.
Treat your Medical Supplies responsibly. Hospitals for a Healthy Environment H2E website http://practicegreenhealth.org/ is an excellent resource for information on reducing waste and environmental impacts form healthcare and medical equipment, supplies, and operations.
Incentivize Efforts Amongst your Peers:
Use tracking software to showcase your sustainability efforts. Communicate this in your lab meetings. Mt. Baker Bio provides free BiowasteTrackerTM cloud computing to allow your lab to continuously monitor your sustainability progress and provide encouragement to ramp up your endeavors.
For more information contact us at:
Mt Baker Bio LLC
2815 Baker Ave, Suite 105
Everett, WA 98201
Education is the Key:
Installing energy-saving equipment helps but it takes people to operate them. Educating, encouraging and collaborating with researchers to make recycling, conservation and reuse a part of lab culture may be the biggest challenge and have the biggest payoff. Scientists are understandably focused on their research, and getting them to make sustainability a priority takes a partnership. Ensure your signage for recycling is clear and concise.
Inform other labs of your progress and promote sustainability outside of your own domain.
Reduce Transportation Costs:
Encourage lab carpools, public transportation, or bicycling as a means of transportation to/from the lab. Post schedules and route maps throughout the facility. Use telepresence or other long-distance communication to replace travel whenever possible.
Green Up the Office Areas:
The following are only a handful of ideas to consider in adopting green ideas into your shared office areas:
- Include “Please Consider the Environment” footer in all of your email signatures.
- Use environmentally-friendly cleaning chemicals for daily use such as non-toxic multipurpose cleaner or glass cleaner. Choose re-usable cleaning products like sponges instead of paper towels. User water-conserving cleaning methods and strategies while cleaning.
- Reuse paper waste and have a scratch paper bin which people can use the back of unused printouts for drafts, scratch paper or internal memos, etc.
- Purchase recycled or remanufactured toner cartridges to realize significant cost savings.
- Set up an office supply re-use center.
- Print double sided, using a reduced font size, printed on post-consumer recycled paper.
- Use an environmentally friendly display board instead of foam core board to post memos, schedules, scientific posters or other notices in a centralized area.
- Eliminate paper, styrofoam, or plastic cups, plates and utensils in the kitchen area. Use mugs, dishes, and silverware instead.
- Install a filtered water tap at your sink instead of purchasing bottled water, to save money and reduce waste.
Locate your Nearest Recycling Center:
Undoubtedly your lab will generate an odd item or so which requires special recycling requirements. Earth 911 provides an excellent resource for identifying recycling stations in your area, as well as posting the capabilities of each facility. Please visit http://search.earth911.com/ for more information.
Spread the Word:
Your efforts alone make a huge difference. That said, a cooperative endeavor makes even more progress towards sustainability in the Life Science Industry. Do not be shy in touting the achievements you make, no matter how small:
- Inform your department, institution and partnering organizations about your lab’s efforts to become environmentally friendly and follow green practices.
- Assist at least one other lab in learning about eco-efficiency in science and encourage them to share your concerns.
- Put together a “Green Team” that will serve as the initial supporters of greening your lab, as well as enlisting and informing all lab members of key activities.
- Create and adopt a laboratory environmental sustainability vision statement.
- Display a sign in a visible location where your scientists will be reminded of your environmental concerns and activities to “green up” the laboratory.
- Donate a portion of your budget, or volunteer, for a worthy environmental cause.