Allison Paradise, CEO of My Green lab, a non-profit organization and Marc Boreham vice president and general manager of Agilent’s Laboratory Enterprise Solutions Division share their views on the interplay between laboratory efficiency and sustainability, and the advancement of science through innovation.
Q: How does innovation ensure the lab runs efficiently and sustainably?
Allison: Innovation comes from seeing something in a new way. My Green Lab’s approach to sustainability makes it easy for people to see their lab from a new perspective. We ask people to interrogate their own behaviour, to ask why they are doing something a particular way, and, if that action is being done out of habit, to consider an alternative approach. When scientists and manufacturers are introduced to the idea that labs can be more efficient and sustainable, they start to see new possibilities for research operations, and this has led to groundbreaking innovations. For example, a team of scientists at MIT developed a DIY device to remind themselves to close fume cupboard sashes. This simple action can reduce energy consumption by 50%.
Marc: On average, instruments in the lab are running only 35% of the time today. Essentially, you could remove a significant number of instruments out of the lab, which would have a great positive environmental impact. Why are customers not doing this today? Because it’s complicated and difficult. This is where innovation and technology come in.
Digital tools like asset monitoring and automation, and core (shared) lab management software, enable a complete understanding of usage; removing unnecessary instruments and implementing shared resource models where appropriate, results in reduced lab space, reduced capital equipment expense, reduced power and gas consumption, and less maintenance and compliance costs.
Q: What are the biggest sustainability challenges faced by labs today?
Allison: We adopt the habits, routines, and behaviours of our mentors and peers, and oftentimes don’t stop to question if what we’re doing is truly the best option.
This has led to laboratories consuming up to 10 x more energy and at least 4 x more water than office spaces and discarding ~12 billion pounds of plastic waste each year. Our mindset is our greatest challenge. By questioning our behaviour, and changing our approach to lab operations, we have the potential to substantially reduce the environmental impact of labs.
Marc: Talking to lab mangers, it is surprising to learn that only 4% of them today are using Utilization Data to manage their fleet. We know that understanding how your instruments are running and being used, is the absolute key to managing your instrument fleet efficiently. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it!
Q: What tools are available to help labs be more efficient and sustainable?
Allison: We offer several programs to help labs improve efficiency and reduce their environmental impact. Our Green Lab Certification program provides a framework for scientists to see opportunities for sustainability in their lab. Because our approach is personal, not prescriptive, labs make significant progress toward increased efficiency and sustainability when they become Green Lab Certified.
We also started the ACT label program to support the design and selection of sustainable products. This is an eco-label for all laboratory products, giving insight into the environmental impact of a product and its packaging.
Through the program, manufacturers have made changes to products and/or packaging such as re-designing their products to be more energy efficient, re-sourcing their packaging materials, and implementing take-back programs for products.,
Marc: I really believe you can dramatically reduce your impact on the environment whilst improving the performance of your lab and your company.
The power of asset monitoring is that it works with all manufacturers’ equipment giving a lab manager a view of the efficiency of their entire lab and operations to drive informed decisions.
COVID-19 has had a massive impact on speeding up digital solutions from suppliers. For example, we’ve seen a 500% increase of customers taking classes at Agilent University (our online training portal). And we have bought forward the release of our Augmented Reality Assist app which allows us to work directly with customers, overlay instructions and graphics over the top of their instruments to troubleshoot while we are talking to them over the phone.
These new remote capabilities have had a huge environmental impact on both our business and that of the customer, enabling us to continue to fully support our customers at this time.
Q;: Where do you think the future lies for sustainability in laboratories?
Allison: When we first started My Green Lab, there were fewer than 10 organisations with a green lab program; now there are over 100 worldwide. As the scientific community has become more aware of the possibilities to reduce their environmental impact, we’ve seen increased adoption of sustainable best practices and manufacturers rising to the challenge of creating sustainable products. We are headed toward a future where the life sciences industry is a model for what other industries can achieve and where every lab is a green lab.
Allison Paradise is the CEO and founder of My Green Lab
Marc Boreham is Vice President General Manager (VPGM) of Agilent’s Laboratory Enterprise Solutions Division