April is Earth Month, but we believe that caring for the environment is an everyday endeavor. When it comes to lab sustainability, though, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. Read on to learn which common sustainability myths just don’t hold up.
Myth: Improving lab sustainability is too expensive.
Reducing your lab’s environmental impact doesn’t have to break the bank.
Take, for example, cold storage costs. A typical research lab building can consume 40-60% of all energy on a university campus, and a single average ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezer consumes as much energy as a single-family home.1 Upgrading old units to more modern, energy-efficient ULT models can reduce energy consumption.2 Switching to shelf-stable products like BenchStable Cell Culture Media can also help you cut down on energy costs in the lab and help eliminate the need for refrigerated transportation and bulky, insulated packaging.
Next-generation supplies for common protocols, like Invitrogen™ Cells-to-CT ™ kits for RNA extraction, can slow down your use of plastic consumables like pipette tips, spin columns, and tubes and stretch your supply budget further. Cells-to-CT kit use generates 95% less plastic waste than traditional RNA extraction methods—a whole beaker’s worth of plastic tips.3 (As a bonus, the kits also cut back on hazardous components.)
Some changes may even earn you money –for example, My Green Lab offers a hefty $10,000 ‘freezer challenge’ grant prize for the participating lab that saves the most energy.4
Myth: Sustainability comes at the cost of my science, because green products don’t perform as well.
Underperforming “green” products is a myth that extends far beyond the sciences. Peer-reviewed advertising research has revealed that consumers in general have an unconscious bias against green products; they perceive eco-friendly products as less effective than potentially toxic or polluting conventional products across the board.5
Of course, this is often not the case, and the best eco-friendly products can match or improve on the performance of a conventional product while helping reduce impact on the environment.
Take DNA analysis as an example. Ethidium bromide is a toxic mutagen that can be absorbed through the skin, and an irritant to the skin, eyes, mouth, and respiratory system. It requires careful disposal to avoid polluting water systems. For years, it has been vital to gel analysis as a DNA stain. SYBR Safe DNA Gel Stain is a more recent innovation that eliminates the need for ethidium bromide in DNA or RNA analysis. It also matches the detection sensitivity of ethidium bromide methods.6 That’s a win-win for scientists and the Earth.
Myth: Expanding lab sustainability will add extra steps and disrupt my workflow.
The last thing busy scientists and lab managers need is something that adds steps, equipment, or time to a workflow they’ve already perfected. Luckily, it’s possible to make meaningful improvement to your lab’s sustainability even with quick and hands-off changes.
For example, you may choose to work with a supplier that offers lower-impact packaging and shipping options (without sacrificing product integrity, of course) and end-of-life product recycling and refurbishing donation programs for when you are due for an upgrade.
A high-efficiency refrigerator or ultra-low temperature freezer can passively reduce your energy usage, while shelf-stable products can free up valuable cold storage space. Likewise, switching to ACT-labeled reusable plasticware like beakers, graduated cylinders, storage tubes, lab bottles, and more is a simple way to invest in long-lasting, high-quality, sustainable supplies.
Myth: Any changes I make won’t make that much of an environmental difference.
According to the US Department of Energy, laboratories on average use far more water and electricity than the average office building.7 Reimagining the struggle for lab sustainability as a local one can empower labs looking to increase not only the efficiency of their labs, but also the overall quality of work life.
Reducing the resource consumption of your lab not only reduces your utility cost, but relieves the demands placed on local power and water providers. This is especially crucial for states affected by drought: as of March 2022, 20% of land in the western United States experienced extreme or exceptional drought conditions.8
Thermo Fisher Scientific aims to reach net zero emissions company-wide by 2050. To learn more on how the company intends to achieve this, check out the 2021 Social Impact Report. The Federal Energy Management Program also offers more information about a “whole-building” approach to reducing energy consumption.9
Myth: It’s too hard to tell which lab products are sustainable.
When you’re evaluating a scientific journal, you probably know to look at its impact factor. Did you know that many laboratory products today also now feature environmental impact factor labels to help you make an informed decision?
The nonprofit My Green Lab created the ACT Label to make the process of comparing and choosing sustainable products easier for scientist consumers. The ACT Label emphasizes accountability (A), consistency (C), and transparency (T) around manufacturing, energy and water use, packaging, and end-of-life disposal of a product.10
At the end of 2021, Thermo Fisher Scientific offered 470 ACT-labeled products and 250+ Energy StarTM -certified products.11 Look for the ACT Label and green leaf on our product labels.
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1International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories, My Green Lab. “Thinking Outside the Icebox on Lab Sustainability.” Nature, October 25, 2018.
2 “Ultra Low Freezer Technology and Energy Savings.” ENERGY STAR. Accessed August 8, 2022. https://www.energystar.gov/products/ultra_low_temperature_freezer_technology_and_energy_efficiency_work_together.
3 Thermo Fisher Scientific. Fact Sheet: Cells-to-CT Kits. Waltham, MA: Thermo Fisher Scientific , 2016.
4 See terms and conditions at freezerchallenge.org/the-challenge.html
5 Usrey, Bryan, Dayananda Palihawadana, Charalampos Saridakis, and Aristeidis Theotokis. “How Downplaying Product Greenness Affects Performance Evaluations: Examining the Effects of Implicit and Explicit Green Signals in Advertising.” Journal of Advertising 49, no. 2 (2020): 125–40. https://doi.org/10.1080/00913367.2020.1712274.
6 Thermo Fisher Scientific. Fact Sheet: SYBR Safe DNA Gel Stain. Waltham, MA: Thermo Fisher Scientific , 2016. https://www.thermofisher.com/document-connect/document-connect.html?url=https://assets.thermofisher.com/TFS-Assets%2FLSG%2Fbrochures%2FSYBR%20Safe%20DNA%20Gel%20Stain%20-%20Green%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf
7 “Energy Efficiency in Laboratories.” Energy.gov. U.S. Department of Energy. Accessed August 8, 2022. https://www.energy.gov/eere/femp/energy-efficiency-laboratories.
8 “Drought in the Western United States.” USDA Economic Research Service. Accessed August 22, 2022. https://www.ers.usda.gov/newsroom/trending-topics/drought-in-the-western-united-states/.
9 Federal Energy Management Program.” Energy.gov. U.S. Department of Energy. Accessed August 8, 2022. https://www.energy.gov/eere/femp/federal-energy-management-program.
10 My Green Lab. Accessed August 8, 2022. https://www.mygreenlab.org/.
11“Corporate Social Responsibility: Environment.” Thermo Fisher Scientific . Accessed August 8, 2022. https://corporate.thermofisher.com/us/en/index/corporate-social-responsibility/environment/responsible-products-and-services.html.