A Call to Action for the Scientific Community to Meet the Critical Climate Issues of Our Time
We are proud to announce that My Green Lab has joined the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative. The United Nations has designated the next ten years as the decade of action and delivery on global climate change, and our team at My Green Lab is dedicated to helping bring this vision of action to life.
The UN Global Compact, along with President Joe Biden’s executive order re-joining the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement, is helping to usher in a decade of mobilization from businesses seeking to change the way they operate. This mobilization is central to My Green Lab’s mission of action from the scientific community to fundamentally and permanently improve the sustainability of their research.
“The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) defined by the United Nations are the blueprint for protecting our planet. Along with addressing poverty, inequality, peace, and justice, the SDGs help stress the importance of climate action, and its urgency. While action is required from all industries and individuals, My Green Lab’s focus is creating a culture of sustainability in scientific laboratories,” says James Connelly, My Green Lab’s Chief Executive Officer. “Labs are profoundly resource-intensive spaces. By introducing sustainable practices to the scientific community, we are working hard to create meaningful change across the industry.”
Many of the world’s largest corporations have outlined ambitious sustainability targets but have yet to fully achieve their goals. My Green Lab’s vision is to take climate talk and turn it into climate action. Through our programs, My Green Lab helps laboratories from the scientific community’s largest corporations and academic institutions reach their sustainability goals. The range of programs offered includes the green lab certification, which educates and engages scientists on lab sustainability best practices; the green chemistry program, offering sustainable alternatives to traditional organic chemistry; ACT - the environmental impact factor label for products; and the Freezer Challenge, an international competition aimed at reducing the environmental impact of cold storage, which recently launched on January 1st.
At our upcoming virtual Sustainability Summit on March 24th, My Green Lab will bring together 200+ members of the scientific community in thoughtful conversation about how they can accelerate the adoption of green lab practices. The Summit’s theme, Vision + Action, aims to unite the industry around My Green Lab’s vision of a world where all science is conducted in a way that benefits the health and well-being of people and our planet, thus inspiring action in laboratories around the world. In accordance with the UN Global Compact’s principles on environmental action, the Sustainability Summit will help businesses organize, align, and deliver on their sustainability goals.
Solutions to the world's biggest problems, including climate change and the coronavirus pandemic, are studied in research laboratories across the globe. But as sterile as those labs may appear, they have a dirty secret: immense carbon footprints.
Labs burn through five to 10 times more energy per square foot than offices, an impact that may be magnified tenfold for clean rooms and other specialized facilities. For instance, 44 percent of the energy use of Harvard University is derived from its laboratories, which take up less than a quarter of campus space. Labs also send massive amounts of water down the drain and discard possibly billions of pounds of single-use plastics every year.
A unifying force is needed that creates standards and fosters a space for strategies and best practices, according to James Connelly. That's what he wants to deliver as the new CEO of My Green Lab, which works with life sciences leaders including AstraZeneca and Agilent.
"It's sort of a surprising fact how much energy and water and materials that laboratory spaces consume," Connelly said. "It's been ignored by the green building world a little bit because it's difficult to address. So the unique aspect of what My Green Lab does is, it was created by scientists, for scientists to help work on behavior change and a transformation of how the labs are actually operated and how science and research is performed."
At universities and corporations alike, addressing emissions and waste in labs can significantly drive down costs and further sustainability commitments. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, if half of America’s labs shaved off 30 percent of their energy use, the total savings would be equivalent to the annual energy use of 840,000 homes.
"My Green Lab is a brilliant project because it reaches out to change behavior and mindset of scientists in the lab," said Pernilla Sörme, risk management lead in global safety, health and environment at AstraZeneca, which expanded Green Lab Certification to seven sites across its global portfolio.
The nonprofit is the first consolidated effort to educate researchers about sustainability in laboratory operations. Its Green Lab Certification already has labeled more than 400 labs. Last year, the Colorado Department of Agriculture became the first government lab to reach "green," the highest of five levels. If that sounds similar to green building standards, such as LEED, that's by design: My Green Lab is gunning to become the leading sustainability advocacy group in the life sciences, globally.
Connelly comes to the growing organization by way of the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), which he helped expand into the world's leading proponent of regenerative, healthy and equitable building design — managing its Green Building Challenge and Living Product Challenge before serving as VP of projects and strategic growth.
Projects and progress
My Green Lab's 15 partners and sponsors include biotech giant Genentech, MilliporeSigma and USA Scientific. The nonprofit also has teamed up with the EPA to bring the Department of Energy's Energy Star label to ultra-low temperature freezers used for COVID-19 vaccines, applied first to equipment sold by Stirling Ultracold, another sponsor of My Green Lab.
My Green Lab also runs the ACT "eco-nutrition" label for lab equipment. (ACT stands for Accountability, Consistency, and Transparency). It was created to help procurement officials and scientists with purchasing. The organization is working directly with manufacturers, including scientific instruments maker Thermo Fisher, to set benchmarks on products and packaging design.
The label rates the sustainability of products consumed in laboratories including beakers, pipettes, bottles and equipment such as autoclaves and chemicals. The ratings represent data from the GreenScreen safer chemicals benchmark as well as details on packaging and product handling at the end of life. Last April, diagnostics equipment leader Agilent signed up as a My Green Lab sponsor and also to have its instruments certified for ACT.
"We chose to work with My Green Lab because, like them, we understand the importance of building a more sustainable scientific industry," said Darlene Solomon, Agilent's chief technology officer and senior vice president. "In many cases, product developments in support of sustainability also reduce laboratory risk. As we see the importance and value that our customers place on sustainability growing, the ACT instrument labels from My Green Lab will play a major role in helping those customers to make more informed, sustainable decisions for their analytical laboratory."
The number of standalone lab-greening efforts has grown since Harvard-trained neuroscientist Allison Paradise created My Green Lab in 2013, from about 10 to 90 groups that engage tens of thousands of scientists around the world.
"We're seeing an acceleration of interest and excitement about sustainability through the pandemic, and that represents the general overall awakening and awareness of the life science industry to sustainability that My Green Lab is really helping to catalyze," Connelly said. "It's important because it's a growth industry that's going to be incredibly important to our future as a society, and to managing things like COVID or in the future other diseases that may come down the pipeline."
Through certification and education programs, My Green Lab enlists scientists and facilities professionals to clean up the carbon impact of labs. Lately, the group has been publicizing ways to green the cold chain for COVID-19 vaccines, which require sub-North-Pole temperatures. Its Laboratory Freezer Challenge, entering its fifth year, has gotten professionals from hundreds of labs to reduce the energy consumption of their deep freezers.
Higher efficiency energy systems in the green building industry don't address the "guts" inside a lab that really drive energy consumption, Connelly noted. "That's something I'm really excited about, to dive in deeply and see how quickly we can make an impact on these types of operations in buildings that have such a dramatic impact on climate change."
And because the higher-level sustainability goals of many organizations still haven’t moved down into their R&D labs, that means plenty of low-hanging fruit for scientists and their colleagues to pluck.
Noted energy hogs inside labs include ultra-low temperature freezers — which can eat up as much energy as a house — and chemical fume hoods for ventilation. The University of Glasgow’s Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation blames 42 percent of its energy consumption on centrifuges alone.
As for the overuse of single-use plastics, the University of Exeter estimated that academic researchers produced plastic waste equivalent to 5.7 million two-liter soda bottles each year.
Thankfully, Connelly has seen more companies thinking through how to change the supply chain of plastics, produce them in a more sustainable way, figure out ways to reuse or recycle them in laboratories, and change the way lab professionals manage plastics. "There's a ton of innovation happening," he said.
Based on case studies, My Green Lab estimates that participants in its Green Lab Certification can achieve reductions of 30 percent in energy use, 50 percent in water use and 10 percent in waste.
AstraZeneca was one of the first pharmaceutical companies to pursue Green Lab Certification at multiple sites, starting about two years ago. The company already had achieved LEED certifications in America and ISO 14 001 certification in Europe, and its R&D site leaders found in My Green Lab a global strategy to steer laboratory sustainability.
Reducing waste and energy in its labs aids AstraZeneca’s sustainability targets, issued a year ago, of zero carbon emissions by 2025 in operations and being negative-carbon by 2030 across its value chain. That includes moving toward 100 percent renewables and a fully electric fleet.
The Green Lab Certification has created a framework and a new way of working that becomes second-nature for AstraZeneca's scientists, Sörme said. "You start thinking, do I actually need to use a high-grade solvent or can I use a low-grade solvent that’s more environmentally friendly?" And scientists can share ideas across the global sites, which is driving innovation in product development as well as employee engagement.
"We also have a lot of fun activities," she said. "For instance, we got our scientists in the U.K., because they love doing research, to do a bit of an inventory. They did 'a day in the lab' to find out how much they used plastic-wise. That's the state we want to be at when people come up with ideas on their own and want to share that."
Each AstraZeneca lab site has a green team with scientists, facility managers, health and safety managers and procurement professionals. A survey kicks off the Green Lab Certification process, reaching out to every scientist, not just key leaders.
There’s a lot of best-practice sharing on novel ideas, such as for recycling lab gloves and reducing water use, Sörme noted. A lab in Boston might share solutions for a site in Cambridge, U.K., to adapt locally. Quick-win practices have included changing freezer filters annually and installing LED lights. AstraZeneca in 2019 credited Green Lab with helping it reach a 97 percent recycling rate of biological waste at a facility in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and sparking the recycling of tens of thousands of plastic centrifuge tubes and serological pipets in Cambridge.
The company is exploring how to raise the temperature of ultra-low temperature freezers from minus-80 to minus-70 degrees Celsius to achieve significant energy savings. In a separate effort, AstraZeneca was a winner in the 2020 Freezer Challenge run by My Green Lab and the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories.
My Green Lab's intention to address systemic issues by creating an ecosystem of programs echoes the approach taken by the ILFI, which was initially considered aspirational by many in the mainstream building establishment yet has been embraced by the likes of Microsoft and Google and making headway in Asia and Europe. Connelly hopes to see a similar growth trajectory at My Green Lab, which has an ambassador program and accreditation program in development.
It's worth noting that ILFI was an early advocate of identifying social equity as a root cause behind environmental problems, releasing its JUST Label behind building products in 2014, following its Declare Program in 2012 targeting "red list" chemicals of concern in building products.
"We want to start driving equity into our program and elevating it to the same position as efficiency and waste reduction and water reduction," Connelly said of My Green Lab.
To view this article on GreenBiz, click here.
To meet the critical climate and environmental issues of our time, My Green Lab is expanding its board of directors to add two new members from both academia and the industry-at-large. Joining the board are Dr. Sapna E. Thottathil, PhD, and Jeffrey Whitford, MBA.
“As My Green Lab moves from a leader in lab sustainability to a global institution and force for change across the scientific industry, a key aspect of our strategy is to add new, diverse voices to our organization. Both Sapna and Jeffrey are recognized and valued leaders in the industry, and dedicated advocates of sustainability. We are thrilled to welcome them to the team,” says James Connelly, My Green Lab’s CEO.
Thottathil is the Associate Director of Sustainability with the University of California's Office of the President. She currently sits on the Board of Pesticide Action Network and serves as a sustainability advisor to the Plant Based Foods Association. “The University of California is one of the leading institutions in providing and promoting green labs, and we have a long history of working with My Green Lab to introduce new sustainable perspectives and programs. I’m excited to help ensure that My Green Lab can support the climate goals of academic institutions in the U.S. and around the world,” says Thottathil.
Thottathil is also an author and editor who has worked on environment policy and sustainable food supply chains for many organizations including the Environmental Protection Agency. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Chicago, where she was awarded the Udall Scholarship for environmental leadership, before going on to receive an MSc from Oxford University and a PhD in Geography from the University of California at Berkeley, where she was the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship.
Whitford is the Head of Sustainability, Social Business Innovation, and Branding at MilliporeSigma. His team is charged with innovating and improving the products and supply chain at MilliporeSigma to continually reduce environmental impact. Through innovative design, green chemistry, and product recycling programs, Whitford is working to ensure MilliporeSigma is at the forefront of corporate social responsibility and has worked closely with the My Green Lab team through the ACT Label and Green Chemistry Programs. “My Green Lab’s mission aligns with the goals we’ve set at MilliporeSigma to help improve the communities and environments in which we live by creating greener alternatives in the lab. I’m proud to join the board and lend my expertise to this influential organization,” says Whitford.
Whitford earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and strategic communications from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and a master’s degree in business administration from Washington University in St. Louis.
Did you know that laboratories are one of the largest energy-consuming sectors in the country? In fact, after data centers, labs are widely recognized as consuming more energy per square foot than any other sector. However, taking the proper actions can greatly reduce the amount of energy your lab uses.
Below, we’ve outlined 9 actions you can take (starting today!) to improve energy efficiency in the lab.
1. Close fume hood sashes when not in use.
Closing your fume hood sash is one of the most impactful things you can do to save energy in the laboratory. Variable air velocity fume hoods can consume around 3.5 homes worth of energy per day. Whereas constant air velocity fume hoods use the same amount of energy whether they're open or closed, variable air velocity fume hoods, when open, use a whopping 110 kWh/day.
Fume hoods have fans within their exhaust systems that help air flow through the lab and the fume hood itself. When a sash is open, these fans suck in and exhaust a lot of the lab's heated or cooled air. The constant reheating and recooling of air that will only get sucked in again by the fume hood consumes a lot of energy. By shutting the sash, you'll reduce the amount of air being wasted, thus saving great deal of energy.
2. Put autoclaves in standby mode when not in use & only run them when full
Autoclaves consume 84 kWh per day. Specifically, large, steam-jacketed or medical grade autoclaves are massive energy consumers. Ensure you’re putting them into an energy conserving or stand-by mode when not in use, and only run them when they are full.
3. Set ultra-low temperature freezers to -70 C instead of -80 C
Ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezers, particularly older models, can consume about 25-30 kWh of energy per day, which is as much energy an American home uses in a day. Setting ULT freezers, particularly those that are 10-15 years old, to -70°C instead of -80°C will save 30% of this energy.
To learn more about how to optimize sustainability of freezer management in laboratories, visit our Freezer Challenge.
4. Turn off equipment when not in use
There is a lot of variability on how much energy your lab equipment consumes. Equipment that has big fan components (like biosafety cabinets), equipment that has heating or cooling elements (like drying ovens, incubators, or water baths), and equipment that pulls a vacuum (like vacuum pumps) tend to be the highest energy consumers in the lab. Turning this equipment off when it’s not in use, or on nights and weekends, can have a big impact on energy usage. Plug load makes up about 20% of energy consumption in a lab. For U.S. labs, reducing plug load by just 10% is the equivalent of taking around 650,000 cars off the road.
There are various ways to ensure equipment is turned off. You can simply unplug it, or invest in power strips to make it easy to turn multiple small pieces of equipment off all at once. If you need certain equipment to be ready for use when you walk into the lab, use outlet timers; this will ensure equipment auto-turns off at night and auto-turns on at the beginning of the day so that it’s ready to be used as soon as you walk in the door.
5. Properly maintain cold storage
Preventative maintenance can help keep cold storage running efficiently. Here are a few tips:
6. Share equipment among labs and turn off or unplug duplicate equipment
Equipment sharing has a similar energy saving impact as turning off equipment when it’s not in use. “Sharing” equipment can be useful even for labs that are using their own equipment. Here’s where scheduling comes in handy. Figuring out how often your lab is using equipment can allow you to optimize the time that it’s in use. Say your lab has two HPLCs that are only used, on average, 40% of the time. Through simple scheduling, you can consolidate use on the first and unplug the second. You’ll save energy and have the second HPLC ready to bring back online if the first one breaks.
Shared resource or instrumentation facilities are particularly useful for universities, where bigger pieces of high energy consuming equipment are in a shared lab and everyone has access, reducing the need for multiple labs to have to buy their own.
7. Turn off the lights when the last person leaves the lab
Lighting makes up around 15% of energy in the lab. Simply turning off the lights when you leave the lab or support rooms can have a significant impact. Turning off the lights during the day when ambient light is sufficient can even further reduce energy consumption. A small LED task light can provide additional illumination if needed and uses much less energy than overhead lights.
8. Utilize green chemistry techniques
The ACS Green Chemistry Institute is a great resource for learning about green chemistry techniques. Their guide on designing for energy efficiency offers two main points that can help improve efficiency in your lab:
Additionally, along with Beyond Benign and MilliporeSigma, we have updated our comprehensive teaching guide for undergraduate laboratories featuring green chemistry alternatives to traditional organic chemistry experiments. You can download the guide here.
9. Share your sustainability efforts with others in your lab, building, department, or organization. Encourage others to change their behavior!
Sharing your successes and best practices in the lab is a crucial element to improving efficiency. Be sure to share how you are reducing energy as often, and as broadly, as you can!
Let us know how you’re saving energy by sharing with us on our LinkedIn or send us an email at email@example.com.
Welcome to our first My Green Lab Ambassador Spotlight!
The My Green Lab Ambassador Program was designed for scientists and laboratory professionals who are motivated to encourage their lab to be more sustainable. This free, online learning program provides an introduction to lab sustainability and ideas for how sustainable actions can be implemented. Each month, we’ll be highlighting stellar individuals who have completed our program including our first ambassador spotlight, Dr. Namrata Jain.
Dr. Jain has been sustainability minded from a young age. She grew up in central India where upcycling, minimalism, and hand-me-downs were encouraged and food-waste was frowned-upon. After graduating from the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, she moved to Canada to pursue her M.Sc. degree as well as her Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia.
Through the Ambassador Program, Dr. Jain was able to connect with like-minded individuals who all have a passion for sustainability, and the program even inspired her to share what she learned with her network. “I found the tips about appliance efficiency particularly useful, which inspired me to compose a blog post about personal sustainability strategies and feature it on my blog.”
Learn more about Dr. Jain and her journey with the MGL Ambassador Program below.
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born and brought up in central India, in a state fondly called 'the heart of Incredible India'. I completed my undergraduate degree from the prestigious engineering college Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati (IIT-G).
Following my graduation, I moved to Canada in 2012 to attend graduate school and finished my M.Sc. degree from Western University in Canada. Thereafter, I relocated to the beautiful Vancouver city to join the Ph.D. program at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Here, I felt very fortunate to work in the iconic Michael Smith Laboratories building. My Ph.D. thesis was based on the characterization of catalytic proteins for use in bioethanol production and understanding the mechanisms of carbohydrate digestion by gut bacteria. I finished my doctoral program in 2020.
While living in Vancouver, I was very excited to learn about the City of Vancouver’s urban sustainability initiative, the Greenest City Action Plan. I was also very inspired by the Green Chemistry Initiative of the University of Toronto. I subsequently co-founded and chaired GreenChem UBC, a green chemistry student-group aimed at lowering the environmental impact of chemistry research labs and promoting lab safety, in compliance with the 12 principles of Green Chemistry. I also worked as a sustainability ambassador with the UBC Sustainability Initiative to create projects and events aimed at educating the UBC community about sustainability.
What drives you to be more sustainable in the laboratory?
Being raised in a household where upcycling, minimalism, and hand-me-downs were the norms and food-waste was frowned-upon, I have always been sustainability-minded. Later in life when I became a chemistry researcher, I experienced firsthand the amount of toxic waste generation and solvent consumption in laboratories daily. I believe that there is great potential in reprioritizing resource-use and facilitating research with lower environmental impact. Ever since I first learned about the 12 principles of green chemistry, I have been motivated to integrate them into my work as a researcher.
What is the most interesting thing you learned while becoming a My Green Lab Ambassador?
The My Green Lab Smart Science Training Videos are packed full of information about water conservation, waste management, and green chemistry techniques. I found the tips about appliance efficiency particularly useful, which inspired me to compose a blog post about personal sustainability strategies and feature it on my blog.
How has the My Green Lab Ambassador Program enriched your sustainability journey?
By participating in the My Green Lab Ambassador Program, I was able to connect with a network of like-minded individuals working towards integrating sustainability in their personal and professional lives. The webinars and discussions facilitated by My Green Lab are great resources for future leaders in this field. I am deeply inspired by this community and am looking forward to contributing to this field professionally.
What are your 2021 sustainability goals?
For the upcoming year, I plan to continue my gradual transition from a vegetarian to a vegan diet. I would also prioritize using ethically-sourced, local products as well as educating myself more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals. I hope to continue writing about sustainable living and learn from established leaders in this field.
Learn more about Dr. Jain by visiting her blog.
Interested in becoming a My Green Lab Ambassador? Sign up here.