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

Save energy and keep you hands warm – The “Green Laboratory Program” at the University of Washington

Hello again. Today I’d like to continue our series about how to be eco-friendly in a laboratory. Remember last weeks post about the initiative at the Simon Fraser University? Here’s another university promoting green laboratories: the University of Washington. Besides the Green Office, Green Greek (“acknowledges and educates Greek community members about their habits at home relating to sustainability”) and “SEED Green Endorsement” (recognising UW students living on campus and off, who are thoughtful about the impact of their daily life on the environment), it has the Green Laboratory Program, which I’ll introduce here now in more detail, i.e. especially the Freezer Challenge.

As pointed out on their website, “Laboratories are one of the main generators of waste …”. So true. Working in a molecular biology lab, I’v thrown away a lot of consumables every day – all the reaction vials called Eppis, all the disposable pipette tips, transfer pipets, micro plates, … – it’s simply the way, it’s the way they are supposed to be used: just once. And then you throw them away.

But leaving this aspect aside for the moment (more about this in a later post), there’s another factor with a huge impact on the environment: the energy consumption of a laboratory. I didn’t know that a lab is “using about 4 times more energy than an office of the same size”. Wow. But giving it some thought, I absolutely believe it because there’s a lot of equipment running from morning to evening or even 24h. Of course, some equipment has to run permanently, such as the various incubators, fridges and freezers. After all, your freezer at home also runs 24/7, doesn’t it? But – and here’s an important difference – your freezer at home probably got a good Energy Star rating. Why? Let’s be honest: because it’s you who’s paying the electricity bill and getting one of those A+++ fridges is one one way to save money, isn’t it?

I know, we’re back talking about money and not just about saving the environment. My feeling is that you can’t avoid this connection – there’s simply a strong link between them. Anyway, why not use saving money as a strong motivation to be more eco friendly? In the laboratory, it’s the university who’s paying the bills. But if you care about it anyway and help them to reduce their energy bill:

a) you’ve done something good for the planet and
b) you might get more money for your research – at least, you’d very much hope, that’s where the saved money ends up.

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