It’s not just the dishwasher that’s using water in your lab! A study and tips from the Green Labs Program at the University of Queensland, Australia (@uqnewsonline)

Hello again and a happy Friday to everyone! It’s the end of another week and I’ll continue here our series on Green Labs. This time we’ll have a look at the other side of the world, i.e. at the Green Labs Program at the University of Queensland in Australia. It’s part of a larger initiative of the university promoting “sustainability across all aspects of learning, discovery, engagement and operations” and features a nice collection of Green Labs Fact Sheets, which contain lots of tips for running a lab more environment friendly. Especially one of them caught my attention and that’s the fact sheet on water consumption.

Let’s assume that you haven’t read the UQ’s fact sheet yet (or just pretend that’s still the case) and imagine that you’re asked, “where in the laboratory do you use water?”. Of course, there are the activities, which everyone does: washing you hands, cleaning lab equipment, using water to dilute or prepare solutions. That’s what came to my mind. Now looking at the UQ’s study (see picture below), this does indeed account for 25% of the water consumption. But would you have guessed that the air conditioning system uses much more water, i.e. 42%?!? Well, I guess the fact that Brisbane has a humid subtropical climate might contribute to that and it might look different for universities with a more moderate climate. And even if one might not be able to do much about it (in this case, it’s up to the Property & Facilities Division … unless you can adjust the air conditioning in your room? If someone’s working at the UQ and could comment on this, please do so!), it’s good to be aware of this.

Water Efficient Labs
Image from: The University of Queensland (Green Labs Program)

And one can definitely try to do something about the remaining 68%, i.e. the use of water for sanitary purposes and for the usual lab processes. For example, when you clean the labware, run the dishwasher only once it’s fully loaded or don’t let the tap water run all the time. Or at least not at full throttle – usually a reduced flow rate is still more than enough. Look at the example given in the fact sheet, where a test with reduced flow rates for autoclaves indicated a possible reduction of 62%, which translates into savings per autoclave of over $2,000 a year. Not bad at all, isn’t it?

Also, some of your cooling lab equipment might work with much less water. Again, the fact sheet give a nice example here: instead of letting the water run through the cooling apparatus just once, it’s possible to circulate it a few times before the water becomes to hot and goes down the drain.

Besides all the helpful tips, this fact sheet taught me that there might be some equipment using water that I wasn’t even aware of. And awareness is the first step, isn’t it? So, let’s be more aware about when and where we’re using water. And then let’s take the next step and take actions to reduce our water consumption!

University of Queensland Australia