While the invaluable work of scientists guides us in tackling climate change, laboratories themselves are not immune from contributing to emissions and waste
The Hill Lab at La Trobe University’s Institute of Molecular Science has become Australia’s first research laboratory to receive certification from My Green Lab, a US-based not for profit aimed at improving the sustainability of scientific research.
Hill Lab achieved the highest possible rating level, Green, by implementing over 80 per cent actions recommended by the program.
“Scientists have been warning about climate change for decades, and researchers frequently make medical and technological discoveries that change our lives,” lab head, professor Andy Hill said.
“Yet the lab work behind these breakthroughs is often extremely energy intensive and creates a lot of waste.”
According to My Green Lab, laboratories use 10 times more energy and four times more water than conventional offices, and many products used for research are single-use only and come densely packed, resulting in a large amount of plastic waste.
To achieve its certification, the lab at La Trobe had to clean up its act across a range of benchmarks, including:
-recycling all soft plastic wrapping, styrofoam, hard plastics and e-waste used in genomic testing
-introducing more energy-efficient, heated metal bead baths instead of water baths for keeping samples warm in experiments
-changing habits to reduce electricity use, including turning off machines not in use and installing outlet timers
-introducing protocols to reduce or eliminate harmful chemicals used in experiments
-installing low flow aerators on taps as well as energy-efficient lighting
-using a more energy-efficient freezer and cutting back on the number of freezers cooling to -80 degrees Celsius.
Hill Lab researcher, Dr Eduard Willms, who led the push for certification, said it took around a year to implement the changes which have since become second nature for the team.
“We wanted to build a culture of sustainability within our lab, within La Trobe University and to encourage sustainability within academia and the scientific world,” he said.
“We’re also proud to be contributing to La Trobe’s commitment to achieving NetZero carbon emissions by 2029.”