Our third feature on the Lab innovations My Green Lab/Laboratory News-curated sessions details Labcon’s Fred Laboroi’s outline of how his company targeted consumables in order to drive down GHG emissions.
Founded 64 years ago in California, Labcon provides in excess of 1,000 product lines to laboratories across the globe. Its mission, says Region Manager EMEA Fred Laboroi, is to provide the highest quality labware with the lowest environmental impact.
That’s a challenge given the scale of its output, because while Labcon’s products are sustainable, there are one billion of them produced by the firm in a single year.
It goes without saying that the world has a problem with plastic waste and any company manufacturing on a grand global scale needs to be aware of the dangers of adding to that situation. To put things in perspective, the 2015 research by Urbina et al, featured in Nature, estimated research enterprise generated around 5.5 million metric tons of waste every 12 months.
For Labcon, tackling its own footprint comes down first to product sustainability, in particular the goal of achieving a drastic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from plastic consumables.
Its work rests on the application of those three Rs that underpin sustainable practice – reduce, reuse, recycle – to the five stages of the product cycle: design, manufacture, distribution, use and end of life.
At the design stage, this entails a focus on reusable and recyclable products with minimal packaging. Here Labcon can claim form; it replaced the then popular Styrofoam product racks with cardboard ones nearly three decades ago, in 1994.
Working from a baseline set at the turn of the millennium, manufacturing offered one of the most fertile areas for realising objectives of migrating to renewable energy while reducing energy use, water use and the amount of waste created.
Increasingly automated 24/7 production saw a 58% reduction in energy use, a considerable change but dwarfed by the proportionate drops in water use (81%), product waste (86%) and GHGs (89%). Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were eliminated altogether while clean energy use leapt 93%, thanks in part to the introduction of rooftop solar in 2011, which now provides more than a quarter of Labcon’s electricity requirements.
One of the key breakthroughs has been Labcon’s Eclipse Refill System for pipette tips. Reclosable packages made from recycled and recyclable (R/R) paper are designed to take up less space and transport more easily and are printed with vegetable-based inks that remove the use of heavy metals.
Inside the container, the recyclable bioplastic stack base is certified negative for carbon, sequestering nearly triple its weight in CO2, helping offset customers’ tip use. The transfer cover on top of the stack protects against contamination and is made from R/R PET, while colourcoded stack platforms are made from R/R polypropylene.
Like the two preceding Lab Innovations session contributors featured this year, Labcon has been an active supporter of the ACT (accountability, consistency and transparency) environmental factor impact label pioneered by My Green Lab; in its case since 2019 when the company certified more than 100 of its 1,000 products with the scheme as ‘environmentally preferred’. That figure has since expanded to 190 products.
As previously mentioned, ACT labelling provides an assessment for various manufacturing, user and end of life categories to provide overall environmental impact factor (EIF) scores – with the virtue that these are independently audited by Sustainability Made Simple and verified by My Green Lab.
A further refinement is that the ACT label is geographically specific. Thus a single product such as the Labcon SuperSlik 200 uL Beveled Point Low Retention Pipette Tips, in Eclipse Refills score 35.0 on the EU and post-Brexit UK labels but just 25.7 on the US version. The difference is accounted for, of course, by shipping.
Lastly, reminds Laboroi, product purchasers in the laboratory sector of whatever scale are in a position to influence sustainable outcomes by applying even the most basic checklist consisting of the following considerations:
- Confirmation of the supplier and product origin
- Manufacturing impact
- Packaging choice
- Packaging waste
- Lifetime rating
- Can we use less?