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How Vendors Can Help Develop a Sustainable Asset Life Cycle

Acquisition, usage, and disposal can all be made more sustainable

by
Holden Galusha

Holden Galusha is the associate editor for Lab Manager. He was a freelance contributing writer for Lab Manager before being invited to join the team full-time. Previously, he was the...

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Laboratories are infamous for their high energy demands and waste generation. While small steps are important, many lab leaders have realized that sustainability efforts must go beyond turning off the lights at the end of the day or being conscious of water usage. Instead, lab managers are now seeking to develop more data-driven, holistic approaches to making their labs more sustainable.

According to a survey of 500 lab managers from the US, the UK, Germany, and China, conducted by Frost & Sullivan on behalf of Agilent Technologies, 82 percent of those interviewed have already begun tracking metrics related to sustainability and using it to inform decisions. Specifically, 92 percent of those labs track how they consume resources, and 87 percent use the metrics to lower greenhouse gas and carbon emissions.

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Lab equipment vendors are now stepping in, offering various services and programs to help their customers meet sustainability goals. By partnering with vendors at each stage of the equipment life cycle—acquisition, usage, and disposal—lab managers can implement an end-to-end asset management program optimized for sustainability.

Acquisition

Eco-friendly lab work begins with acquisition. Procuring the right equipment can play a significant role in maximizing your lab’s eco-friendliness.

  • Seek equipment with third-party environmental certifications: Many vendors will have certain models certified as being environmentally friendly by external organizations, such as the ACT Label from My Green Lab. When purchasing equipment, ask the vendor about models that suit your needs with such certifications. Additionally, some vendors offer eco-friendly consumables such as non-toxic reagents for clean disposal and pipette tips made from recycled plastic.
  • Purchase equipment made with recyclable materials: It’s common for certain parts of lab equipment, such as the control panels on centrifuges, to be constructed from foam injection molded panels. While cheap to manufacture, this foam is neither biodegradable nor recyclable. When the equipment no longer functions, the only place it can go is a landfill. Continuing with the centrifuge example, consider partnering with a vendor who manufactures control panels out of aluminum, steel, or other recyclable metals. This same approach can be applied to other types of instruments throughout the lab.
  • Buy pre-owned equipment: Cost savings aside, pre-owned equipment carries another distinct benefit: it inherently promotes sustainability. By purchasing used equipment, you’re preventing it from being thrown into a landfill where non-biodegradable body panels or toxic chemicals will leach into the earth. Many vendors offer refurbished/pre-owned equipment that they have tested and confirmed ready for use. Furthermore, by purchasing pre-owned equipment from its original vendor and not a third party, you’ll have access to technical support and consulting services from the vendor.

Usage

Taking the right steps in acquisition will set the stage for sustainability, but the largest impact will likely be realized in long-term, day-to-day usage of the instrument.

  • Use vendor sustainability consultation services: According to the survey, 90 percent of labs do not use consultancy services for sustainability. This can be a major missed opportunity. Consultants can offer guidance tailored for your specific lab and operational needs, optimizing your sustainability efforts for utmost effectiveness. Additionally, they can perform audits to identify gaps in current sustainability efforts, as well as additional areas of improvement regarding energy use, waste, procurement, design, and more. Some consultants also offer project management services to help you keep your lab on track with its environmental goals, as well as workshops to teach your staff how to implement sustainable practices in their own workflows.
  • Use instrumentation data: Many vendors offer monitoring platforms that track equipment usage patterns, power consumption, and other metrics. Vendors who capitalize on this data collection to deliver customized reports related to sustainability are useful. According to the survey, more than 80 percent of labs have already adopted sustainability metrics but most do not rely on instrumentation data, even though it is a desired feature. By leveraging data that is already collected, or collecting new data, and packaging it in the context of sustainability, vendors will be better equipped to help lab managers make data-driven decisions.

Disposal

Throwing your equipment in a landfill is the least sustainable disposal option. By partnering with a vendor, better disposal options are available to you.

  • Recycling: As mentioned, some vendors manufacture equipment from recyclable materials. They may also offer recycling programs, either free or paid, in which they handle the recycling process for you. Most labs do not have the means to safely recycle some components, such as the lamps used in atomic absorption spectrophotometers. That’s where the original manufacturers step in: you send them the instrumentation/components to be recycled and they’ll handle it from there, ensuring that everything is broken down and reused safely.
  • Refurbishment: Numerous vendors will accept pre-owned units and refurbish them in-house, making that equipment more accessible to labs with smaller budgets while supporting sustainable usage. Depending on the vendor, you may be able to sell the equipment back to them to recoup some of the initial investment. With other vendors, you could trade in the equipment in exchange for a new generation of the technology or a different product of equivalent value.

Adopting a mindset of sustainability and partnering with vendors that support your environmental initiatives will set up your lab for success in reaching those goals. These vendors are especially suited for helping you develop a full circle, holistic approach to reducing your lab’s carbon footprint through the asset life cycle.