Written by Emma Wightman, MSc - Content Specialist & Technical Writer, Triumvirate Environmental
While many scientists have embraced the idea that environmental responsibility is paramount, it can seem daunting to actually implement sustainability best practices within a lab space. From research and development (R&D) to healthcare diagnostics and everything in between, labs are essential for worldwide knowledge acquisition and advancement. Much of this involves exact processes and sterile environments in order to make experiments run smoothly. Often, these processes are resource-intensive, relying heavily on water, energy, and single-use plastic to perform while maintaining research integrity.
Due to the crucial nature of these experiments, sustainability efforts simply won’t work unless sample and experiment integrity can be maintained at the same time. Regrettably, some labs choose not to adopt certain sustainability initiatives due to concerns about potential risks to the integrity of their research or experiments. Fortunately, by implementing proven sustainability best practices and partnering with vendors who prioritize sustainability and safety, labs can not only continue their vital work but also make their operations more environmentally friendly.
Embracing Lab Sustainability
Labs across the globe are realizing the importance of sustainability. They are coming to understand that these resource-intensive spaces offer a unique opportunity for double-sided progress: If labs become more sustainable, they will both reduce their dependency on finite resources while simultaneously continuing the research that helps protect the environment and the global community as a whole.
This concept is cemented by growing societal and governmental concern for the environment. In fact, sustainability compliance is likely to become legally mandated, as evidenced by the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27), the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) drafting, and other such events. On top of this, 80% of consumers have indicated that they prefer to support companies with a stronger approach to sustainability—signaling that sustainability can mean more loyalty and thus, revenue.
Creating a Sustainable Future
That fact remains that even when labs are hoping to implement sustainability programs, there are some perceived barriers to how far this inclusion can go. Many researchers are hesitant to change their standard operating procedures (SOPs) as they don’t want to risk research integrity—or safety—by using products or performing tasks that are not verified as safe and effective. They also may not know how to go about solving lab sustainability issues in a compliant way. As such, they stick to the same routines, continuing their heavy reliance on resources as they prioritize safety and efficiency over sustainability. And who can blame them?
What if we told you, however, that you can have all three—sustainability, research integrity, and safety—by partnering with vendors who take environmental, health, and safety (EHS) seriously? EHS partners are a necessary and constant presence in lab operations, providing waste disposal and consulting services to these spaces. Anyone can provide these services, but only few can offer them in a sustainable way—so it is important to ensure the services and ideas of your EHS partner align with your environmental goals. This may look like:
And because safety and sustainability go hand in hand, and labs can be unsafe places for lab personnel and the environment, it is in everyone’s best interest to incorporate both into operations—so you know that a vendor who offers these services is the real deal and actually cares about the well-being of your staff. A few questions to ask the vendor include:
EHS Partnering for Lab Sustainability Success
My Green Lab and Triumvirate Environmental, a holistic and turnkey EHS vendor, both share a deep commitment to sustainability and understand the complex needs of labs within this larger push. In partnership, we provide the know-how, and the can-do, to help you achieve any and all of your sustainability goals. Triumvirate Environmental’s deep-set commitment to sustainability and expansive set of service offerings allow labs to craft sustainability solutions that best fit their environment.
With a shared set of values, this partnership strengthens lab sustainability commitments including:
Safety is something that can just be a key phrase, but Triumvirate Environmental is proud to put it right at the forefront of our operations—allowing you to focus on research integrity and employee safety. For more information about Triumvirate Environmental, visit www.triumvirate.com.
Join us in welcoming Dulan Liyanage to team My Green Lab! An MEng graduate from the University of Manchester, Dulan is a travel aficionado with a passion for sales and sustainability. He recently joined the team as Market Development Representative.
Learn more about Dulan, his interests, and his sustainability journey below!
Please tell us a little bit about yourself & your background.
Hi, my name is Dulan, and I am the newest addition to the Business Development Team at My Green Lab. My parents are Sri Lankan Sinhalese and they raised me in the cosy suburbs of South London with my two older brothers.
Therefore, as a second-generation immigrant, I’ve been besotted with the ‘travel-bug’ and have led a life all over England, before moving to Ireland. After completing high school in South London, I spent 4 years studying as a Material Scientist and Engineer at the University of Manchester. Whilst I was studying, I ran the Science Fiction and Fantasy Society for a couple of years and worked for the Students’ Union. After graduating with a MEng, I felt an urge to develop my engineering career and worked at an Industrial Control and Automation Distributor for 3 years in various roles. I moved to the Southwest of England, Bristol and then Bath, where I settled down for a while with my other half.
I was nominated for the GAMBICA Young Persons’ Council in 2022 where I found myself a seat at the table, solving the biggest issues in the STEM Industries. It was there that I encountered My Green Lab, and the rest is history. Fueled by my skills and passion for sales and sustainability, I applied to join this amazing team and have been relishing the opportunity ever since. I am now in the process of moving to Ireland where I am building a new, and hopefully greener, life.
What is your role at My Green Lab?
As Market Development Representative, I am working closely with our Business Development Team to increase the outreach of our ACT Label and My Green Lab Certification Programs. I am giving pitches to our prospective customers and inbound leads, whilst using my keen sales experience to conduct Outreach on both programs. I am also working with our wider team to help with strategic planning.
What inspires you to do the kind of work you do?
Change. Ever since I was little, I could never sit still, whether there was a problem to be solved or a meal to be made, I have always wanted to effect the change I want to see in the world in my own lifetime. Working in labs throughout university, especially during my dissertation on Nuclear Corrosion, I was constantly exposed to and responsible for the waste and sheer energy use that one scientist can impact upon a laboratory. Even in my daily life, the carbon footprint of the everyday person is far from negligible, but I have always struggled to affect change on a big enough scope to feel like I’m making an impact. At My Green Lab, I finally feel like each of us can make an astronomical impact on the industry wide sustainability crisis.
What are your personal sustainability goals?
My next car will be at least a hybrid, and I intend to be driving electric once I am settled in a city. Furthermore, I intend to use renewable energy to help fuel my future residences. I have a soft spot for solar panels as they started my obsession with renewable energies as a teenager during my high school project on solar vs. wind energy and continued throughout my degree when learning about Photovoltaic Cell Doping. Furthermore, I strive to eat locally and want to cultivate my own crops in future years. Living off the land might be a stretch goal, but, just like in labs, the sustainability impact that we as consumers can have by choosing homegrown and organic sources of sustenance over supermarket produce is one of the ways I feel I can make the most impact and have better lives for it.
What are your hobbies outside of work?
The travel-bug reigns supreme, if for no other reason than to try and sample every different cuisine of every nation. I currently want to travel more of the North American states and South East Asian regions. I am finally returning to Sri Lanka after almost a decade this year where I cannot wait to climb the Sigiriya Mountain and have cocktails on the Beaches of Galle.
Cooking and Baking: having inherited a colourful palette and love for tropical dishes. I spend a lot of my spare time in front of the kitchen stove stirring pots and pans for as many meals as I can spare time for. Cooking is one of the few hobbies I’ve found to be cathartic, productive, and rewarding, and I’ve strived to become more adept at different echelons of cuisine across all continents. I also spend way too much time playing board games and Nintendo and occasionally write poetry.
What are your favourite books / movies?
Whilst most of the books I own are cookbooks, I have a soft spot for Sci-fi and Fantasy in all its forms, whether that is in cult classics like Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, or feminist pastiche such as Circe by Madeline Millar. The best book I’ve ever read, however, is Crying in H Mart by Michelle Yeoh, which is a tragic and poignant memoir that truly captures the experience of being a second-generation immigrant. I’ve also always been a bit of a superhero nerd when it comes to the cinema, and love to dabble in an animated movie or two; My favourite movie of all time has to be Kimi No Na Wa, a Japanese movie about star crossed lovers with a sci-fi twist.
Where do you call home?
At the moment… nowhere! I am moving between places for now, planning to spend some time with family in London and Ireland and gradually move over to Dublin. Maybe ask me next year…?!
My Green Lab and the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL) are thrilled to announce that the 2023 Freezer Challenge has saved a whopping 20.7 million kWh of energy, corresponding to about 14,663 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent — more than double the amount of CO2 saved in last year’s challenge!
In our largest competition ever, nearly 2,000 laboratories around the world participated in the Freezer Challenge — a free competition that promotes energy efficiency through best practices in cold storage management. This year, participating labs contributed to saving energy equivalent to 37.5 million miles driven by an average gas-powered vehicle.
"The success of the 2023 Freezer Challenge underscores the dedicated efforts of thousands of scientists worldwide. Doubling last year’s CO2 savings reflects a shared commitment to sustainable practices in energy conservation,” says James Connelly, CEO, My Green Lab. “The exponential growth in impact from the Freezer Challenge signals a shift in the science industry to embrace sustainability. It proves that small actions in the lab multiplied across the globe can have a significant impact."
Launched globally in 2017 by My Green Lab and I2SL, the International Laboratory Freezer Challenge has saved 44.7 million kWh worth of energy to date, reducing CO2 emissions by 31,678 metric tons, which is the equivalent of saving energy consumed by 6,164 homes for one year.
This year’s incredible growth is an indication that the scientific sector is taking sustainability seriously. Labs from 27 different countries contributed to a 42% rise in participating organizations compared to 2022, reflecting a wider global involvement.
2023 Freezer Challenge Winners
With over 26,000 participating cold storage units, thousands of scientists and 170 organizations committed to sustainability took part in making this year’s challenge a success. Over the course of the six-month competition, labs accumulate points for adopting sustainable practices concerning their cold storage units, including actions that enhance energy efficiency, ensure sample accessibility, and maintain sample integrity. To determine the winners, the number of points earned as well as the amount of energy saved by each lab was considered.
While every participating lab is a winner for helping save an incredible amount of energy, we are proud to recognize labs and organizations in several categories for their noteworthy contributions to the 2023 Freezer Challenge. Winners will be recognized at the upcoming I2SL Annual Conference in October and will also be interviewed for an article in Lab Manager magazine.
Testimonials from Some of Our 2023 Winners
"We are delighted to be recognised with the Top Organization and Small Size Lab Awards. Participating in the Freezer Challenge is more than a friendly challenge among colleagues; it signifies our collective commitment to sustainable science. Every kilowatt saved reflects our dedication to not only pioneering research but also to safeguarding our planet for future generations. We all have a role to play." — Juliette White, CBE, Vice President, Global Sustainability and Safety, Health & Environment, AstraZeneca.
"We were delighted to hear the news of winning the award. Signing up to the challenge motivated us to implement a management plan for our cold storage equipment and it was well worth the effort." — Dr. Jane Kilcoyne, Analytical Chemist at Marine Institute Ireland.
“The GI/Onc group has been a part of the Green Labs initiative here at Hopkins since day one. Earning the Freezer Challenge award is icing on the cake, the cake being our Platinum My Green Lab Certification. We plan on earning Green during our recertification.” — James Leatherman, Lab Manager for GI Oncology Research, Dr. Elizabeth Jaffee and the team at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
List of All Our 2023 Winners:
Note: Winning Streak Awards are given to previous year's winners that exceeded their energy savings from last year.
Biotech/Pharmaceutical Sector Winners
Academic Sector Winners
Government Sector Winners
Learn more about the Freezer Challenge here.
Interested in getting notified when the 2024 competition launches?
Sign up via the button below.
The Freezer Challenge is a joint program run by My Green Lab and the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL) and is made possible through the generosity of industry sponsors. Our sponsors for the 2023 competition are: Eppendorf, Stirling Ultracold, B Medical Systems, Gilead, Elemental Machines, Amgen, PHCbi, and Thermo Fisher Scientific.
My Green Lab Renews Partnership with the United Nations High-Level Climate Champions to Accelerate Healthcare Sector's Carbon Reduction and Resilience Efforts
Collaboration empowers organizations to achieve carbon commitments and holds companies accountable for turning commitment into action.
My Green Lab is proud to announce our renewed partnership with the United Nations High-Level Climate Champions. Supporting the United Nations’ Race to Zero Campaign, which aims to halve global carbon emissions by 2030, this renewed collaboration will empower more organizations than ever to achieve their carbon commitments through My Green Lab’s programs and research.
Building on the success of the current partnership in advancing the biotech and pharma industry’s commitments, the renewed partnership will more broadly address the healthcare value chain. My Green Lab’s VP of Investments and Partnerships, Ryan Arnold, has been appointed the Health Sector Lead at the High-Level Climate Champions. “Biotech and pharma play a huge role within the sector, but there are more opportunities across the healthcare value chain where My Green Lab’s tools can help drive systemic change,” says Arnold.
My Green Lab Certification was selected as a Race to Zero Breakthrough Outcome in 2021, establishing a target that 95% of labs in biotech and pharma achieve Certification at the highest level by 2030. Over 2,000 labs and 24,000 scientists from 45 countries have engaged with the program, including 35 of the largest biotech and pharma companies. Currently, 71% of companies in the sector with over $1 billion in revenue that have joined the Race to Zero are working on a My Green Lab Certification. The rapidly growing program is recognized as the gold standard for laboratory sustainability best practices worldwide.
In addition to ensuring the adoption of My Green Lab Certification in laboratories, the renewed partnership will build upon My Green Lab’s groundbreaking report on the carbon impact of biotech and pharma that tracks the industry's progress to net zero carbon.
“With only seven years until 2030, we must urgently accelerate the decarbonization of all parts of the economy. My Green Lab has been our key partner since 2022 to align the pharma and biotech sector with the goals of the Paris Agreement. This year, we’re thrilled to expand our partnership to the whole health sector and focus on both decarbonization and resilience in the frame of the 2030 Breakthroughs and the Sharm El Sheikh Adaptation Agenda, with expected highlights at COP28,” says Emmanuelle Pinault, Director of Systems Transformation, High-Level Climate Champions.
This article was originally published on the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park’s (PRBB) website el·lipse and was written by Maruxa Martínez-Campos.
The Integra Therapeutics group has worked together to achieve My Green Lab Certification; the first institution at the PRBB to get certified.
Sustainability is an increasingly recognized value – and laboratories around the world are taking action to try to reduce their environmental footprint as much as possible.
My Green Lab is a non-profit organization focused on building a global culture of sustainability in science. Their program, My Green Lab Certification, was designed to help scientists and the teams that support laboratories with actionable ways to make meaningful changes towards adopting sustainable science practices. Recognized as the international gold standard for laboratory sustainability, My Green Lab Certification teaches green lab best practices and helps labs save money and preserve resources, all while ensuring a safe, healthy, and fun environment in support of science. The program has supported over 1,770 labs in a range of sectors.
Integra Therapeutics, a Pompeu Fabra University spin-off dedicated to the development of a new genetic engineering tool, has become the first institution in the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB) in Spain to receive a Platinum-level My Green Lab Certification.
Natalia Artigas, a member of Integra Therapeutics and a My Green Lab Ambassador, shared her experience during the My Green Lab Certification process, and highlighted the valuable lessons Integra Therapeutics learned throughout the journey. Natalia is an active participant in the PRBB sustainability group, where she shares information and the tools she learned throughout the process.
What has the certification consisted of?
At My Green Lab, they are very lab-focused, and they understand very well how labs work. The first thing they do ask your lab a lot of questions about the technical equipment you have and show you how to improve the energy efficiency of that particular equipment. They also ask about things that go beyond the particular lab, questions relevant to the infrastructure of the building, e.g., “Do all the taps have water-saving dispensers?” or “Are the lights in the building LED?” In this sense, being in the PRBB has helped, because the building has many of these good practices already in place.
How does the process work?
First, you answer an assessment survey to see how the laboratory works. Next, they give you advice on what changes can be made to improve your practices. Once the changes have been made, they survey you again – each person involved in the lab is tested individually, to compare the practices of the different lab members. Finally, you are given a final score and a certification level based on the extent of progress in adopting best practices in the lab: Green, Platinum, Gold, Silver, or Bronze.
How long does the whole process take and what did you do to achieve it?
It took us about 9 months. After the initial assessment and receiving advice on things to change, we held monthly meetings in which we dealt with the different issues: community, recycling, shopping, chemicals, water… Up to 9 topics that we had been assessed on. In these meetings, we organized ourselves by dividing up the tasks of looking for information, etc. It was very good because everyone wanted to collaborate, the whole laboratory was very active by attending meetings, and there was a very good response.
Can you give us some examples of things you have changed?
One very interesting thing we did was a ‘waste audit‘ – which is to keep all the waste from the lab for a week and sort through it to see how to improve our waste management. The first thing you look at is whether the waste is going to the right place – e.g., sometimes things are thrown in the biohazard waste bin that don’t belong there. And that means an extra cost both environmentally and economically because the biohazard waste receives a much more complex treatment… It’s a very recommendable exercise because sometimes you are surprised by what you throw away!
Then, among the things that go into biohazards, we looked at what plastics we could replace. Something we had already done, for example, was to replace the plastic bacterial growth tubes with glass ones, which can be autoclaved (sterilized) and reused.
Another important thing, which seems obvious, is to check your reagents regularly to prevent them from expiring. In fact, this is a big issue; Sigma has found that 5% of the products they sell are thrown away without ever being used! Simply because they have expired. That’s why it’s essential to keep good records of what you have, use first the ones that are going to expire soon… and, above all, share reagents with others!
And about the reagents, apart from the expiry date, they also look at what chemicals you use. This is something we often don’t think about – you use the default reagents, the ones that have always been used. But nowadays, “green chemistry” is very much in vogue, and this is all about replacing reagents that are harmful to the environment with less harmful substitutes.
What about energy?
The energy consumption of machinery is probably the one with the biggest impact. It is important to be aware of when they are switched on unnecessarily – apart from the fact that it also affects the lifetime of the machine! One thing we now do is rotate between lab members to ensure that machines are switched off at night, as well as check the maintenance of all machines.
Interestingly, the machinery that wastes the most energy is laminar flow cabinets, because if they’re not closed, the cabinet keeps generating a flow continuously…the only thing you have to do is close it when you finish using it! Often, it’s not closed because of carelessness, laziness, or because you want it to be ready when you need it again. I know that some labs in the UK have put in automatic systems that detect when there are no people near and it closes automatically, saving a lot of energy.
Adjusting the temperature of freezers is another big step that can have a big effect – plus you make the change once and then can forget about it! To do this, we first analyzed the efficiency of our freezer. With a go-pro camera, a student in our lab, Albert, took pictures of the freezer temperature every minute, to see how it varied when you opened it, how it recovered, etc. He then did an analysis of the temperature fluctuations and we saw that the biggest impact was the time you kept the door open, not so much the number of times you opened it. So, it was feasible for us to make the temperature change from -80°C to -75°C if we avoided keeping the door open too long. By improving practices, we were able to raise the temperature without putting our samples at risk, and now all MELIS-UPF freezers have made this change! Our next goal will be to go from -75°C to -70°C.
Any other important subjects?
Yes, water! In the building we use water with different degrees of purity: normal, distilled, and ultrapure water (Millipore). Sometimes ultrapure water is used, when in fact distilled water would be enough. And, as we have seen with waste, generating ultrapure water is much more expensive than generating distilled water (it takes 6-7 liters of decalcified water to generate 1 liter of ultrapure water, whereas 1 liter of distilled water requires only 3 liters of normal water).
Until recently, we used to buy ultrapure water – but now we generate it right here at the PRBB, in Millipore machines that are on every floor of the building. And it’s the same quality as the purchased water. We eliminate the CO2 associated with transport, plastics, and also, at PRBB the water used to make ultrapure water is not wasted, but is reused for flushing toilets.
Waste, reagents, machinery, water… What has been the main challenge?
I thought it would be recruiting people from the group to collaborate, but that turned out to be the easiest! I’m super grateful to the whole team.
The biggest challenge has perhaps been at the purchasing level because it does not depend only on us. For example, to reduce CO2 associated with transport, and parcels, we made the effort to wait so we could buy more things at once from the same supplier; we made sure we ordered them with enough time in advance not to run off… but then, even though we ordered everything at the same time, they sent it to us in three different packages! They assume that you want to have it as soon as possible, which is understandable. So, if they have one product and the other two are missing, they send you the first one. It’s a bit frustrating, but you just have to talk to the company and explain that you want them to send it all together, rather than as soon as they have some products.
What does it mean for you to have this certification?
Having the accreditation gives you a guide of what you have to change and how, because sometimes you have the will to do it but you don’t know where to start! My Green Lab categorizes everything and helps you step by step.
It is also aligned with company policy. We are a young company, and our CEO, Avencia Sánchez-Mejías, was very keen to do things right from the beginning. She was the one who told me about the PRBB sustainability group as soon as I arrived at Integra.
Finally, a tip for other groups or institutions that want to become more sustainable.
First, join existing sustainability groups, such as the one at the PRBB, because there is a lot of knowledge and resources there. And we need people, because there are few of us who are very active, since you have to combine your laboratory work with improving sustainability, and not everyone has the same availability… Everything takes time, and we do it all on a voluntary basis. In my case, I am lucky to have the support of my boss to dedicate time to it.
It also helps if you complete the My Green Lab Ambassador program– and that doesn’t take a lot of time!
Are you interested in finding ways to make your lab more sustainable? Get in touch to learn more about My Green Lab Certification here.