Laboratory: Sustainable vs Eco-Friendly

Laboratory are getting greener and are increasingly becoming aware of the need for practicing eco-friendly and sustainable research. Whilst the terms sustainability and eco-friendly are used interchangeably, there is a difference. 

Eco-friendly means “not environmentally harmful”. Eco-friendly in the laboratory context means promoting and adopting practices to prevent pollution and other actions detrimental to the environment.

Sustainably, on the other hand, is about the future. According to United Nations, sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. In the context of laboratories, sustainability takes a broader meaning to include practices and actions which doesn’t use too many resources or causing environmental harm, while generating environmental, social, and economic benefits.

Sustainability, therefore, has much higher standards, and encompasses eco-friendliness in its broader meaning.

The broad themes that can be adopted in a laboratory setting for sustainability are conservation, waste reduction, and resource management. Let’s explore them in detail in this blog.

Theme Best Practices
Energy Conservation  Labs are big consumers of energy & conscious conservation of energy can deliver significant environmental and cost benefits.

  • Fume hoods: By adopting simple practice like closing the hood sashes when not in use, using a VAV fume hood, and latest Industry 4.0 technologies for analytics, laboratories can reduce their energy footprint. 
  • Cold storage: Freezers are energy guzzlers in a lab and with proper maintenance like regularly cleaning/changing filters, door sealing, and consolidating samples and reagents into single fridge, laboratories can reduce the impact of freezers.
  • Lighting: Use of efficient electric lighting and lab design allowing for natural daylight will help reduce the energy bills.
Water Conservation 
  • Flow control: Valves to reduce flow, timers and automatic shut-off mechanisms can help conserve water.
  • Equipment: When choosing equipment like autoclave, dishwashers etc, opt for models with water-conservation features.
  • Optimise: Process can be optimised for batch-rinsing, Counter-current rinsing, and changing distillation process can help reduce the consumption of water. 
Waste Reduction
  • Reduce: Minimise the amount of material purchased
  • Reuse & recycle: Recycling, redistribution, or sharing are good alternatives to waste disposal
Resource Management
  • Right inventory: Use of inventory systems will help avoid redundancies, unnecessary purchases, and wasting the surplus.
  • Micro-scaling: An increasingly popular way to conserve resources, by scaling down experiments to a practical minimum.
  • Substitution: Cleaning materials, catalysts, and reagents can be substituted less hazardous or non-hazardous alternatives. 
  • Exchange programs: Setting up exchange programs for surplus across laboratories is another great way to manage resources.


Reference: EHS, Princeton University

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