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Eco Friendlier

Though they say this winter on the east coast was NOT the longest or snowiest on record, I’m hard pressed to believe it. The stubborn patch of snow I’m looking at outside my office window indicates otherwise and shows absolutely no sign of melting...

by Pamela Ahlberg
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Fortunately, I’ve got my seed starter kit up and running, with eggplant and kale sprouting and tomato seeds at the ready for planting this weekend. It’s those little tiny green seedlings poking through the soil under the grow light that makes this lingering winter tolerable. Which brings us to this month’s “green” issue.

Initiatives to reduce a laboratory’s environmental footprint abound, with very ambitious programs such as LEED and others. But for smaller, existing labs, or those with tighter budgets, there are still important changes they can make to improve their eco-friendly efforts. According to Dennis Nolan, author of this month’s cover story, “While many institutions have implemented green lab design and use energy-efficient equipment, few have looked at attempting to change the practices of the lab users. Often people do not realize what they are wasting because they have not been made aware of it.” Key to the success of such a program is that it be voluntary and self-regulated. Click here to find out how your lab measures up and what additional eco-friendly changes you can make.

Creating a strong laboratory culture involves the same principles as creating a voluntary green lab program, which is to foster each individual’s commitment to shared goals. This is done first and foremost through active and constant communication, but also requires the careful selection of staff, encouragement of self-starters, mutual respect, and much more. “In a strong lab culture, team members are productive and involved, have clarity about the goals of the lab, and have positive relationships with other team members,” says author Lina Genovesi.

In this month’s Perspective On article, Russell Leu shares his experiences running an environmental laboratory in the Montana State Department of Public Health & Human Services. In addition to discussing his research, business, and staffing challenges, he reflects on the changes in environmental awareness and practices during his career. “When I first started out, I worked on a college campus. When we had excess organic solvent, it was put on a steam table and up the stack it went, so the answer to pollution was dilution,” he says. “Nowadays, we don’t get by with that. You save all your organic solvent, and when you get a certain amount, someone comes and collects it.” We have obviously made some headway here.

Speaking of handling solvents, this month’s Business Management article makes a financial case for investing in a digital chemical inventory management system, arguing that a poorly managed chemical inventory wastes money and creates unnecessary and menial tasks, such as searching for chemical containers and reordering stock that can’t be found. There are other benefits as well, says author Anne Sefried. Monitoring inventory levels and ordering ‘just in time,’ “eliminates the compliance and safety risks of having excess chemicals on-site and the cost of sending unused containers to chemical waste facilities.”

Though it may turn out that the further “greening” of your lab will be seemingly modest, it is never a wasted effort.

Here’s to Spring!

Pamela Ahlberg