Sustainable science: Earth Day tips for a green laboratory


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So much scientific research goes into discovering methods to increase energy creation and efficiency while minimizing environmental impact, but ironically laboratories themselves use up extremely high amounts of energy to maintain operation. This Earth Day, let's review several pointers to help make your laboratory more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

On average, research laboratories use four or five times more energy than office buildings. It’s not surprising given the amount of equipment and technology that laboratories employ. Devices like fumigators, exhaust devices and containment systems, heating and cooling equipment, building ventilation systems and back-up generator and emergency power units all draw heavy energy usage. In addition, laboratories are subject to around-the-clock operation as scientists need 24/7 access to carry out their experiments.

Research facilities hoping to increase energy efficiency and sustainability can decrease electricity usage through simple steps like remembering to power off equipment that is not in use, disconnecting seldom-used equipment and remembering to turn off lights whenever a room is unoccupied.

More aggressive energy conservation efforts can be taken to optimize water usage by selecting low-flow faucets and water retention systems. Natural sunlight can be captured through rooftop and building-side photovoltaic panels so that laboratories can generate self-sustaining electricity. Airflow systems use a lot of energy to provide heating and cooling throughout laboratories; special window treatments and roofing can be used to leverage natural sunlight. Changes can be made to the heating and cooling system to reduce energy waste. PerkinElmer’s Santa Clara data center implemented an airflow optimization project that reduced annual energy usage by 69,000 kilowatt hours through the elimination of unnecessary overcooling.           

Laboratory employees should also maintain careful inventory records to avoid over-purchasing which can contribute to waste. Once products are ordered, stock chemicals and reagents should be used in the chronological order in which they were purchased. The purchasing of recycled products should be encouraged whenever possible, and supply managers should select vendors that participate in equipment buy-back programs. Inventory management can be achieved through diligent record keeping, but laboratory managers are also wise to invest in inventory management software that will help make automated, real-time decisions about the quantity and frequency of ordering new materials.

Laboratories can also opt to participate in organizations such as the Carbon Disclosure Project and the EPA’s Green Power Partnership to promote and contribute to the awareness of sustainable practices.

You can read more about specific ways to establish more environmentally-friendly, energy-efficient and sustainable laboratory practices here:

Green chemistry made easy: Simple ELN configurations

Sustainable science: Reducing the environmental stress of research

Informatics for a greener tomorrow: Guidelines and solutions