NEB® TV Ep. 27 – Green Lab Tips from Go Green Symposium

In this episode, experts share their insights on best practices for sustainable laboratories with scientists


Welcome to NEB TV. Today I am joined by Nicole Kelesoglu, who is the editor of LabConscious, which is a community devoted to sustainability in the laboratory. Hey Nicole.

Hi Deana, thanks for having me today.

Thanks for coming. Now, Nicole, back in December NEB hosted a Go Green event at LabCentral in Cambridge. Can you tell us a little bit about how that started?

Sure. So, at Labconscious we've seen an increase and interest in green laboratory practices, we thought it would be a great idea to invite some of the thought leaders in this space to come and share some of the best practices, and the latest innovations, and the technology that's available toady to labs to support sustainability. LabCentral was the perfect place to host this event because it's a shared laboratory space that's designed to spark innovation, and they also are promoters of sustainability.

Can you tell us a little bit about what the day was like?

Sure. So, the day was broken down into three parts. There were three keynote speakers who gave presentations, and that was followed by a panel discussion, which was on eco friendly and cost effective ways to reduce life science laboratory waste, and finally in the afternoon we had a vendor fair, so that scientists could really ask direct questions.

Great. So, we were fortunate to able to interview some of the keynote speakers and vendors during that day, and they were able to share some helpful tips and insights on how we can be more sustainable in the lab. Let's take a look.

I am Quentin Gilly, I'm with the Harvard University Office for Sustainability, and I am the senior coordinator with our Green Labs program.

My name is Tom May, and I work for Save That Stuff. We're a local independently owned, largest independently owned recycling company here in Massachusetts.

So, my name is Schuyler Stuart, I work for Triumvirate Environmental, and we are an environmental health and safety company. We focus on consulting and hazardous waste and regulated medical waste disposal.

My name is Ali Safavi, I'm the founder and CEO of Grenova, and the company was founded based on focusing on the amount of plastic waste that the lab is producing and eventually filling up our landfills.

My name is Allison Paradise, I am the CEO of My Green Lab. My Green Lab is a 501C3 nonprofit dedicated to building a culture of sustainability through science. So, we really try to take a holistic approach to sustainability in the laboratory.

Sustainability in the lab has improved significantly, I think, over the last five years.

Everyone's more aware of it, especially with the rising cost of disposal, and the attention given to the environment.

But at the same time, I think the sheer volume of waste that's being produced out there has increased, so that's inhibiting our ability to make a lot of progress there.

And I think the people that actually work in the labs are more interested in the environment and what happens to their waste.

We see solutions coming on the horizon.

So, there are four key areas of sustainability that we look at; energy, water, waste, and chemical use in the lab, and in each one of these there's really some very easy things that labs can do to help reduce their environmental impact.

As a former scientist, I never thought about energy consumption in the lab. It's really not visible to us, but it's everywhere. So, it's everything that gets plugged into the wall. So, when we think about energy consumption, we think about things like turning off equipment, or operating pieces of equipment a little bit more efficiently, like just closing fume hood sashes, or adjusting the set point on freezers.

The amount of energy you can save by closing your fume hood could potentially be more than any other thing that you do on a normal day, as far as a researcher in the lab.

Water is another huge part and component of laboratories that is often overlooked. So, autoclaves, for example, can be using 650 gallons or more per day in their operation. So, really being thoughtful and mindful of your operation of equipment, in terms of energy and water, can have a profound effect on the laboratory space.

One of the worst sources of waste in the labs is plastic, and usually those are plastic consumables that the labs are using and discarding after one time use. They don't break down, they end up in a landfill and get burned into the atmosphere, or what happens at the end, they're going to stay within our planet. If it's a very durable plastic, then they can be washed and reused, without throwing it away.

Really look at the way things are shipped to the labs, how they're procuring their products, what they're shipped in, things that produce the waste are what we need to look at.

You should definitely look at the products your lab is purchasing. Are those companies embracing sustainable manufacturing processes? Do they have third party verification of those products? And are they looking at new solutions to continue to make their products more sustainable?

So, the main sources of waste that we see in the lab are biological, by far. There's a lot of chemical, but it really depends on what the focus is of the work that's being done in the labs, but more and more we're seeing an increase in biological waste.

And then chemistry, again, is another part that I think is often overlooked, because we're usually handed a protocol and told, "This is how you do this experiment." And we don't often think about what are the chemicals and reagents that are involved, and can I do this in a way that either uses fewer chemicals or uses different chemicals that might be less hazardous, and therefore produces less hazardous waste?

I think the thing that scientists can do to increase sustainability in the labs and be more sustainable participants is just keep thinking about ways that they can contribute to reducing the amount of waste that's in the lab, and challenge those around them to also be thinking the same way.

They should form a green team of employees and evaluate what their waste stream really is, and then they can call an expert, and most trash companies would offer a waste audit service at no charge, and would come in and work with that green team to identify the main components of your waste stream and how to recycle them.

I think the biggest thing is just having the conversation about this stuff upfront, because education is the first step to really making a difference.

Educate the team, so it will be a collaborative decision and movement all together, in order to be successful.

It's difficult for one person to make contributions, whereas if there's programs in place that can encourage everybody's participation, you're going to get a lot further and gain a lot more ground.

As soon as you open somebody's eyes to sustainable in the lab, it's impossible to see it any other way, it's impossible to go back. So, I think it's really primarily an attitude shift, and once that happens, yeah, the rest just follows.

If a lab hasn't really thought about their sustainability practices, the first thing I would suggest is start doing some research and start reaching out to companies, like Triumvirate, that can provide some consultation, and just talk about what your programs look like and where there could be some ability to improve.

I would really encourage you to reach out to organizations that currently exist, because there's a wealth of information already out there, and use that to get your bearings before making choices about what projects you want to actually tackle. There are organizations all over the country now who are doing things related to lab sustainability, and everybody is trying to help each other out. So, even if you're just an individual lab at an organization where nobody's ever thought about lab sustainability before, you're not alone.

Nicole, thanks so much for joining me today.

Thanks for having me, Deana.

Now, if a viewer wasn't at the Green Day event, is there a way that they can still access the information that was learned?

Absolutely. So, the keynote speaker presentations are all available on the LabConscious website, and the panel discussion was just released as a podcast in the NEB podcast series Lessons From The Lab and Life.

Great. And just as a reminder, if you haven't already signed up with LabConscious, we encourage you to do so and join the discussion. Thanks so much for joining us today, and if you have any suggestions for future episodes, please let us know.

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