Greening Up Your Lab : A Guide to Sustainable Lab Practices

February 17, 2023 | Lab Furniture

In practicing an ethos of sustainability in our laboratories, it’s easy to overlook some of the intuitive but less apparent ways in reducing waste. There are actually varied and abundant ways we can reflect high standards of social and environmental responsibility but we tend to focus on the most visible forms of lab waste like plastic, forgetting that electricity consumption is one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

My Green Lab and the Center for Energy Efficient Labs (CEEL), a non-profit organization that aims to improve the sustainability of scientific research, released a report saying that the most commonly used lab equipment in the US consumes energy equivalent to the energy consumption of over 4 million homes. It’s no secret that labs use up 3 to 5 times more than typical offices due to its nature of 24/7 operation of energy-intensive equipment and high airflow rates.

Lab Manager, an organization that seeks to help laboratory leaders run their labs like a business, provided some of the best practices.

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Freezer Challenge 

  •  Defrost your freezers to optimize performance and reduce energy consumption by a good 10%

  • To reduce overall refrigeration requirements, take time to do your inventory so that you can identify the samples that will be relegated to long-term storage

  • Practice My Green Lab’s “-70" is the new -80” initiative by increasing the temperature set point of ULT freezers to -70°C from -80°C. This reduces energy consumption by an average of 37% and prolongs freezer life by reducing compressor strain.

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Outlet Timers

  • To sustainably operate equipment that have heating or cooling elements, having outlet timers will always have your water baths and heating blocks at the right temperature, ready to be used in a moment’s notice. Your lab will see reduced energy consumption and a decreased risk for fire. 

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Closed Hood Fume Sashes

  • Since energy use of fume hoods is proportional to the volume of air that is flowing through them, reducing the airflow volume will win you savings.

  • Adjusting and manipulating the height of the movable sash - raising it when working and lowering it when work is done - reduces energy intensity by 40%. 

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Green Chemistry

Green chemistry is the practice of reducing the generation of hazardous waste in the designing of chemical processes and products. This approach also reduces the unnecessary exposure of personnel to noxious and toxic chemicals.

  • Selecting benign or green alternatives for commonly used chemicals and reagents whenever possible.

  • Rethinking your lab’s air exchange rates. This includes actively sampling the air in your lab and aligning the number of air exchanges with chemical exposure risks, leading to a 50% reduction in energy consumption.  

Though laboratories naturally consume a disproportionate amount of energy, scientists still have control over how much energy they utilize. By doing these best practices, overhead costs will be reduced for labs who lessen their energy consumption.

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