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LEAF Helps Cultivate Lab Sustainability

The choice of equipment, together with changes in behavioral habits, can significantly contribute to a greener and more sustainable future for laboratory practices

Richard Jafrato

Richard Jafrato is the general manager at Haier Biomedical.

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Laboratories commonly use three to 10 times more energy than an average household, as fume hoods, fridges and freezers, autoclaves, incubators, and analytical instruments require constant power to operate. With sustainability at the forefront of public consciousness, green initiatives like LEAF are becoming increasingly popular in many industries where efficient lab facilities are paramount. Similarly, most higher education institutes in the UK are now part of this enterprise and the network of sustainable labs is continuously growing.

The Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF) was developed by University College London with the aim of encouraging laboratories to minimize their impact on the environment by using fewer plastics and less water, energy, and other resources. Energy use can be significantly lowered by implementing simple measures such as not leaving unessential items in a fume hood, activating power-saving modes, unplugging unused benchtop equipment overnight, and transitioning to LED lights. Fridges and freezers, of course, can’t be switched off, but it is still possible to reduce their energy consumption by choosing the right model to purchase and following best practices.

Choosing the right model of lab refrigeration

Energy efficiency is a key factor that the public has become more aware of in recent years; we all recognize the A-E energy rating scores that are now at the top of product listings for every household appliance specification. It’s apparent even in this context that energy efficiency varies considerably between different models of fridges and freezers, and even between different manufacturers. Perhaps more importantly in a lab setting, it is also crucial to look at the energy-to-space ratio as smaller units will look more energy efficient but offer less space. For freezers, there are also different technologies available that offer varying flexibility in energy efficiency. For example, one of the most energy-efficient refrigeration systems—based on frequency conversion compressor technology—allows the freezer to adapt to its environment, ultimately helping to optimize the energy usage. This is especially important for ultra-low temperature freezers that operate under -80 °C and draw a significant amount of power. Cryogenic storage tanks that use liquid nitrogen for cooling often need continuous top-ups as it evaporates over time, but selecting models with lower evaporation rates reduces the overall environmental footprint.

Greener habits

Whatever the make or model of fridge or freezer a lab chooses, changing user habits can also have a significant impact on energy consumption. Simple practices such as minimizing the time a fridge door is left open, preventing the storage of unnecessary items, and ensuring that fridges and freezers are thoroughly cleared of samples and reagents after experiments have been finished can all help to reduce energy usage. While much of this sounds like common sense, unfortunately, this is not always common practice. There are, however, many easy ways to  implement standard working practices that support sustainability. For example, employing a rigorous and systematic inventory system with numbered racks can help staff to find samples faster, reducing the time that a door needs to stay open and maximizing storage capacity.

Reliable monitoring

There are other operational measures that can be taken to reduce energy usage. For instance, increasing the set point temperature in freezers from -80 to -70 °C can make a difference, although some individuals may hesitate due to concerns about samples reaching critical temperature in a shorter time in the case of a power outage. However, implementing reliable monitoring systems and battery backups make people more willing to embrace a higher temperature setting. These additional safety measures simultaneously ensure that temperature fluctuations can be closely monitored and managed, mitigating the potential risks associated with a power cut.

Maintaining efficiency

This threat of losing power hangs over every experiment and every project in labs because of changes in temperature, and regular maintenance of cool storage is also paramount to ensuring that this stays steady. Regular checks and servicing help to keep maximum efficiency across critical components, such as compressors, which in turn reduces both energy consumption and operational costs while extending the lifetime of the equipment. It is therefore vital to choose a supplier that can offer a regular maintenance scheme to keep your appliances at their best.

Don’t fix what isn’t broken

A comprehensive and strict maintenance program helps labs to get real mileage out of their initial investment. Laboratories that have set themselves on the sustainability path are often eager to switch out their old fridges and freezers for newer, more energy-efficient models. But it is crucial to remember that producing these instruments also requires resources. Lab managers would  be wise to hold on to equipment that is working well until it has clearly reached the end of its efficient lifetime.


Laboratories consume a tremendous amount of energy and fridges and freezers are responsible for a major part of this resource. Sustainability-focused initiatives like LEAF encourage laboratories to adopt energy-efficient models and new habits, and there are several simple systems and approaches that can help labs along this path. Maintenance and servicing are also key as they ensure that equipment operates at its maximum efficiency, helping laboratories to further decrease their resource consumption and move toward a greener future.