Strategies for a More Sustainable Lab

By Kevin Ritchart

While many people have adopted a more sustainable lifestyle at home, the practice of creating and maintaining sustainable habits in the lab is still a work in progress.

Studies have found that laboratory buildings consume 10 times more energy and about four times more water than office spaces. Along with the increased power and water needs, the prevalence of single-use plastics also contributes to lab waste.

Scientists worldwide have become more aware of this growing problem in recent years, and they’re taking a closer look at how they work in the lab and what can be done to reduce their environmental impact. Lab personnel are engaged in efforts to become more sustainable and join the “green lab” movement.

By making sustainable big-picture decisions, lab managers can help ensure their facility is doing its part to have a positive impact on the environment.

"Studies have found that laboratory buildings consume 10 times more energy and about four times more water than office spaces."

Check the Label


In North America, the process of identifying more sustainable products for your lab is made easier by the Energy Star and ACT labels. Energy Star is an energy-efficiency designation that was created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy to highlight equipment that meets certain standards.

While most people are familiar with purchasing Energy Star- certified appliances for their homes, these designations have now reached the lab. Products like ultra-low-temperature freezers now carry Energy Star ratings to aid lab managers in their purchasing decisions. The ACT label is an econutrition designation that compares laboratory products based on the environmental impact of their manufacturing, daily use, and disposal.

The ACT label is independently verified and designed to help scientists make more informed purchasing decisions based on their sustainability goals.

Sustainable Strategies

In addition to using sustainable products, there are a number of strategies for making labs more sustainable. By increasing awareness of their lab’s environmental impact and identifying conservation opportunities, lab managers can shift the culture of their lab toward a more sustainable approach. And a straightforward place to start is with waste.

While the general definition of waste is anything that’s left after recycling, reuse, and composting, the lab definition includes items that are not being used to their full potential. This can mean purchasing unnecessary products, holding on to products that aren’t being used, and using existing resources in a wasteful manner.

By following these strategies, labs can reduce the amount of waste they’re creating:

Consider shared equipment. Consider whether it’s possible to share equipment between labs, and do so when possible. The University of Colorado-Boulder has created two such programs that have been very successful, one for sharing ultra-low-temperature freezer space and another for the common use of biosafety cabinets.

Learn to let go. Identify items that are no longer needed and consider donating them. Some nonprofit organizations will donate to scientists in need or to high school chemistry labs.

Use only what’s absolutely necessary. Unless a piece of equipment needs to run overnight, turn it off when you’re done using it. If your lab has adequate ambient light, consider turning off some or all of the overhead lights. Consider whether alternative methods of cooling your reactions that use less water are right for you. Many labs don’t need to use as much electricity or water as they routinely consume.

Recycle what you can. Consider reusable apparel. For products that can’t be reused, consider recycling. Recycling programs for personal protective equipment and pipette tip boxes are available.

These are just a few examples of strategies that can help make your lab more sustainable.

Ideas for the content in this article were drawn from multiple sources, including “Building a Culture of Sustainability,” Lab Manager, March 20, 2019; and “Making Sustainable Labs a Reality,” Lab Manager, April 1, 2020.

Kevin Ritchart is a Fisher Scientific staff writer.


You May Also Like...