By Alina Nikitskiy and Brandon Jolly
It is no secret by now that sustainable practices need to be implemented in virtually every sector of our lives from product manufacturing to household practices. One target within that spectrum for improving sustainability is within chemistry research laboratories, or really any scientific research lab. Ironically, even labs that focus on sustainable chemical research may generate undesired waste and are not immune to non-green practices. From the trash accumulated from gloves or sterile one time use equipment, to solid and liquid chemical waste, a lot can be done to improve sustainability in research labs. Though there’s a plethora of talk and awareness of this issue, how does a research lab go about incorporating sustainable practices? Unfortunately, that seems to be rarely discussed. Here we will attempt to scratch the surface at making research labs green by outlining already in place, actionable resources for improving sustainability in research labs.
A quick Google search of methods for making a lab greener returns the non-profit organization My Green Labs,1 from which the viewer can see their motto that reads “Building a Global Culture of Sustainability in Science.” Sponsored by large vendors such as Millipore Sigma and Agilent Technologies to others such as EuroFins, to name a few, My Green Labs is a “by scientists, for scientists” organization that works closely with research labs to reimagine their work through a sustainable lens. They offer a variety of services to assist in green practices such as their certification program,2 or the Accountability, Consistency, and Transparency (ACT) program.3 Interested organizations need only sign up to get their certification process going. The certification process is designed for labs such as biotech/pharma or academic research labs, and it covers both individual behavioral changes as well as larger space/equipment changes to implement better sustainable research practices. Interested parties can refer to their website for more information on the certification process. Of note, organizations can get re-certified once initial certification and changes are complete to ensure ongoing sustainability.
The ACT program has developed the Environmental Impact Factor (EIF), also coined the ACT label, which (as the name suggests) labels products’ environmental impact by considering energy use, shipping, packaging, and other factors. My Green Labs also provides a database of products from various vendors, such as instrumentation, that have been given an EIF to assist purchase of relatively greener products. For example, a lab that seeks to purchase a gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GCMS) instrument can not only take product specifications into account, but also the at time of purchase and ongoing environmental impact of the product. The same goes for chemicals/reagents and consumables. Overall, My Green Labs offers the above services, and others, enabling scientists across chemistry or chemical related fields to take action to become greener.
In addition to the resources that organizations such as My Green Labs can offer, numerous other organizations routinely put out information on ways to improve sustainability in research laboratories. The Royal Society of Chemistry hosts a page on “Resources for sustainable laboratory practice” which links tools and initiatives to help researchers be greener.4 They feature resources such as the previously mentioned My Green Labs, Green Impact from the UK which provides a toolkit for implementing and routinely monitoring sustainable practices,5 and the Max Planck Sustainability Network which features members from various Max Planck Institutes focused on improving the sustainability of research.6 Additionally, the latter provides resources to either join or start a local sustainability group to connect researchers in one’s area to discuss and help implement green practices.
Lastly, most universities already have organizations explicitly devoted to sustainability on campus who put out articles, brochures, or other information rich resources of that nature aimed towards educating and enabling researchers to incorporate green practices. Princeton University’s Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) has a helpful article on the environmental impact of laboratory research and tips on becoming greener,7 titled “Greening Up the Lab: Sustainable Research Practices.” Your EHS office may be a great start for taking action towards being sustainable.
We’d like to note that this is certainly not an exhaustive overview of approaches for implementing green practices in laboratories, and there is certainly much more out there. It is important to follow up all of the sustainability education and awareness we’re exposed to and apply it to our daily work. At the end of the day, taking responsibility in conducting sustainable practices is what will truly reduce the environmental impact that our society’s laboratory research poses.