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!

Source:
University of Queensland Australia

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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.

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

The “Green Labs” initiative at the Simon Fraser University, British Columbia (Canada)

GreenLabs

Today I would like to introduce you to an initiative of the Simon Fraser University in Canada, which promotes the idea of running a green laboratory. It’s a nice example, which shows actually what is a green lab and what exactly can you personally do?

So, what is a green lab? When you google this, as I did searching for information on this topic, you find quite a few laboratories that are interested in researching plants. True, plants are green (at least most of them), but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Any lab can be a green lab, even if none of its members are even remotely interested in plants, if it is run in a way that you are aware of how you are using your resources – energy, consumables, water – and do so in a more sustainable way. Or in other words, you go easy on your resources and don’t waste them like there is no tomorrow.

Now, why would you want to run a green lab? Well, you might hope that it is done because of a higher motive – you want to save the earth and protect the environment. But I fear it always boils down to this ugly truth: it’s about money. Nowadays more than ever. Budgets are getting smaller and smaller and everyone is forced to do more with less money. And guess what? As the SFU points out, “a green lab saves money”. A lab needs energy, water and consumables – all things that cost money. It might be disappointing to discover that this is one or even the main motivation behind it. But hey, in the end reducing the energy and water consumption does the environment some good. After all, “A green lab reduces our carbon footprint.”

And what can you do in a lab? It’s actually not that different from a normal household. If you have a look at the SFU’s Green Lab Guide, one of the main tips is the good old “Turn it off!” If you’re not in a room anymore – turn off the lights. You’re experiment is done and neither you nor any colleague is going to need that instrument anytime soon – turn it off. You’re done with your internet research and going back to the bench now – turn off the PC or at least put it to sleep. Simple as that.

These are just a few spotlights on the tips provided on the SFU’s Green Lab website. Have a closer look at it for more tips and read their Green Labs Guide. And very important – share these ideas with you colleagues and get them on board too. Remember, they might not be an environmentalist like you are, but they won’t sneeze at the idea of saving a few bucks!

Oh, and even more important: before you’re now running off to your lab to put these tips into practice, turn off this computer! 😉

Source:
Green Labs by @SFU

Green qPCR – using less plastic consumables and less reagents

GreenLabs

The first time I heard about green qPCR* was when these cute little Real-time PCR System were introduced. Actually, it wasn’t just this type of instrument that was introduced to me, but the whole concept of “you can do something ecofriendly in your laboratory”.

But before talking about this, let me explain why this hadn’t crossed my mind before:

Protecting the environment, for me that meant to recycle stuff. Which in turn means you simply re-cycle paper, plastic and metal. Now the thing is that products made from such recycled materials aren’t as clean as they used to be, e.g. recycled paper looks more gray-ish, doesn’t it? While this isn’t really a big issue in daily live (okay, it’s a problem if you’re picky about the way it looks), it’s definitely a problem in the lab. Here, you’re using methods and instruments allowing you to detect minute contaminations – one in a million of molecules, the proverbial needle in the haystack. Now, if you would use e.g. recycled plastic in the lab, you would very likely always get a some false signal because you would be detecting the traces from its previous use. And reagents … well, once they have reacted with each other, they are used up and gone. And also contaminated with each other, to say the least. Therefore, it’s usually Use-it-once-and-throw-it-away in the lab.

So, if you can’t re-use or recycle material in the lab, what’s left?

Well, if you can’t reuse and/or recycle, at least you can go easy on your resources and reduce the amount of material you use. And that’s where manufacturers of more compact qPCR instruments makes their claim that these instrument help you to run a greener lab:

The concept is: “Using less energy and material is greener.” And this actually makes sense because if an instrument is designed to use 60% less energy than common qPCR instruments. And because it’s all done in a smaller plate, it means you are using less plastic – e.g. 75% less, i.e. only around 4.5 kg/year compared to 18 kg/year. Also, smaller plates means smaller wells, which in turn means smaller reaction volumes are possible, so that you are using less reagents per reaction; long story short, you are producing less liquid waste.

Of course, there are other factors, which have an impact on the environment, such us the carbon footprint of the manufacturing process. Since there’s no data here, I’m afraid I can’t say much about it. But leaving this aside, I think this instrument is really a way to do more with less material. And that’s a good thing for the environment, isn’t it?

Besides this, there are actually exceptions, i.e. applications, where you can get away with reused material. I’ll have a look at those the next time.

What do you think? Looking forward to your feedback and comments! 🙂

*P.S.: in case you’re wondering: “qPCR?!? Real-Time-what?!? What is he talking about?!?” Here a nice little introduction to it: Continue reading “Green qPCR – using less plastic consumables and less reagents”

Green Labs – an introduction

When you think about the environment and how you could protect it, do you also think about how to do this in a research laboratory?

Probably not. Not even if you are working in a lab. After all, most people assume that scientists are more thinking about how to achieve world domination – directly or as the minion of an evil overlord, aren’t they?

Continue reading “Green Labs – an introduction”