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MindMap: Reduce My Lab’s Environmental Impact

The annual energy usage in a typical U.S. life science laboratory has recently been estimated at 4.54 GJ/m2/year,1 almost three times the energy usage of a medium intensity commercial building (1.79 GJ/m2/year).

by John Buie

The annual energy usage in a typical U.S. life science laboratory has recently been estimated at 4.54 GJ/m2/year,1 almost three times the energy usage of a medium intensity commercial building (1.79 GJ/m2/year).2 In such an energy-intensive environment, even small measures can often result in significant energy savings. By considering methods for conserving energy and other resources, the day-to-day running costs of the laboratory can be significantly reduced, as well as its overall environmental impact.

This MindMap explores some of the different options available for reducing the environmental impact of a laboratory by considering ways to limit energy, water, and chemical usage.

Use instruments and equipment wisely

Identify those pieces of equipment and processes that can be shut down when not required. Undertake batch processes when constant operation is not necessary.

Respond to ambient conditions

Manually adjust temperature and humidity controls on equipment where appropriate in response to demand due to seasonal ambient temperature and humidity loads.

Select lower-power settings for overnight

Certain instruments can be operated on a reduced setting overnight to save energy. For example, if an ultra-low freezer is used purely for the rapid freezing of samples, and is not used to store samples at ultra-low temperatures, the temperature can often be elevated overnight, and restored to its low temperature upon returning to the lab.

Switch off instruments when not in use

Switch off all equipment when not in use, where appropriate. Do not leave in standby mode. A lot of instruments can be switched off immediately after use.

Ensure freezers are operating at full capacity

Freezers operate at their most efficient when fully loaded. Ensure they are used to their full capacity, and always have the minimum possible number of refrigerators and freezers in the laboratory.

Organize freezers carefully

Improving the organization of your freezer can drastically reduce the amount of time the door needs to be open, and therefore energy consumed.

Freezers can be organized efficiently using an indexed rack system. Freezer inventory management software can also be purchased to help manage samples contained in the freezer, providing an inventory of all contents as well as helping with sample labeling, tracking and management.

Use fume hoods wisely

Chemical fume hoods and biological safety cabinets are some of the most energy intensive pieces of equipment in the lab, with the average fume hood consuming around 3.5 times the amount of energy consumed by the average household in the U.S. Fume hoods and safety cabinets are essential and irreplaceable laboratory tools. However, the simple action of closing the sash whenever possible can dramatically reduce the amount of energy consumed by the fume hood.

Remote fume hood communication

Fume hoods can now be operated and managed remotely using software. This provides laboratory managers and safety officers access to real-time status information and remote management capabilities, allowing them to easily adjust the settings of the fume hood for maximum energy conservation.

Switch off when not in use

Always turn off the blower and turn on the U.V. light when a fume hood or biological safety cabinet is not in use.

Improved fume hood filtration system

Installing an advanced fume hood filtration system allows for efficient handling of a wide range of chemicals, including acids, bases and solvents, without increasing energy consumption. Modular filtration columns allow the system to be adapted to handle multidisciplinary chemistry and to constantly adjust to the changing needs of a laboratory.

Sash position detection system

A sash position detection system, which adjusts the fume hood’s blower speed to the height of the sash opening, can prevent situations in which the fan is left permanently on maximum. Some detectors can be remotely managed and monitored using software for optimum security.


Labs tend to order vast amounts of supplies, all of which come packed in enormous amounts of protective material.


Order materials that are packaged in recyclable materials.

Recycling scheme

Introduce a recycling scheme using color-coded boxes or bins to separate different materials.

Choose reusable options

Although recycling is important, a better way to reduce the environmental impact of the lab is to reuse equipment and accessories where possible. For example, it is possible to purchase pipette tip refill systems that enable the same rack to be refilled and reused repeatedly. This dramatically minimizes waste and a lab’s environmental impact.

Avoid disposables

Where possible, avoid use of disposable and single-use items for non-sterile activities.

Use glass

Always purchase glass or other reusable and washable laboratory ware where possible.

Use environmentally friendly lab washers

Some lab washers are much more environmentally benign than others in terms of their water and energy requirements. Always choose the most efficient lab washer.

Use centralized lab washers

Consider using centralized wash programs as opposed to bench-side washers positioned under the counter. Under appropriate circumstances, centralized lab washers can be far more efficient.

Select energy-efficient equipment

The amount of electrical equipment in a laboratory far exceeds that in most commercial spaces. This represents a major source of energy consumption. Choosing energy-efficient freezers, refrigerators and other equipment should be a priority when attempting to reduce the environmental impact of the laboratory.

Redistribute equipment internally

Reallocating less well-used equipment from other areas of your facility into your lab can prevent the unnecessary purchase of brand new equipment, and reduce the environmental impact of your laboratory.

Replace old or inefficient equipment

Holding onto old or out-dated equipment can prove false cost savings. Modern laboratory equipment is designed with energy efficiency as a primary feature, and the running costs and energy consumption of modern equipment often far outweigh that of equivalent older models.

Purchase equipment wisely

Ensure that energy efficiency is a primary consideration in the purchase of all new laboratory equipment and instruments. Ensure new equipment has a 3+ star rating, and look for low energy usage instruments.

As well as being more energy efficient, newer models tend to be more efficient in other respects. For example, newer generations of instruments, such as DART mass spectrometers, require much lower levels of solvents than earlier models.

Purchase used equipment

Purchasing pre-owned equipment from a reputable supplier, such as, is an environmentally benign way to purchase replacement equipment for the laboratory, reducing the amount of equipment ending up in landfills.

Use chemicals responsibly

All laboratories rely on chemicals of some description. The use of chemicals is one of the greatest potential environmental hazards in a laboratory, and an important area of attention when considering the lab’s environmental impact.

Use less hazardous and less toxic chemicals where possible

If a choice of reagent or solvent is possible, always choose the least toxic alternative. Using pre-prepared reagents can sometimes eliminate the need for certain toxic or hazardous chemicals.

Store, use, and dispose of chemicals responsibly

Always store and use chemicals in containers or spill trays. Never pour chemicals into the sink or allow chemicals to leak into drains.

Reduce solvent usage

Always use the minimum quantities of solvent possible for a given analysis or reaction. Conduct micro-scale experiments where possible.

Invest in new chromatography instruments

Liquid chromatography is one of the principal solvent-consuming techniques in the laboratory. Newer chromatography techniques such as Supercritical Fluid Chromatography (SFC) or new ultra high-pressure liquid chromatography (UHPLC) require much less solvent than traditional HPLC instruments. The initial capital cost of upgrading to newer chromatography instruments can ultimately be recovered in reduced spending for solvents.

Use a solvent recycler

Investing in a dedicated solvent recycler can be an effective way to reduce costs and minimize environmental impact. Using a recycler, solvents can be restored to their original purity. The most common applications of solvent recycling include: HPLC solvents, GPC solvents, Freon solvents, as well as general lab solvent recycling.

Conserve water

Labs use vast amounts of water for many different applications. Water resources are under increasing stress, and it is the responsibility of every individual to ensure that all water is used responsibly. There are a number of practical steps that can be taken to conserve water.

Use water baths sparingly

Only turn on water baths when they are needed in order to reduce evaporation and thereby decrease the amount of replacement water needed.

Also consider investing in a waterless bath that uses beads or other materials to keep samples warm or cold. These products not only eliminate the reliance on water, but can also maintain a more organized and clean sampling environment.

Increase recovery for laboratory water

Much of the water that is used in a laboratory can be collected and reused. Upgrade laboratory water systems to those that are less wasteful or that recycle water.

Don’t let the tap run

When rinsing or washing, be sure to run the tap only when water is needed. The average faucet dispenses 3 gallons per minute. The amount of water you save every time you use the tap will add up to significant environmental and cost savings each year.

Use less distilled water

The distillation process involves heating water to its boiling point and then cooling the vapor back to liquid. This process is incredibly water and energy intensive, as well as expensive. When washing equipment, use tap water for the initial wash and distilled water for the rinse.

Replace water pumps

The days when laboratories had multiple water pumps running constantly for solvent extraction should be long gone. Eliminate all water aspirators for suction and replace them with electrical vacuum pumps.

Adopt an overnight and weekend ‘shut-down’ routine

Introduce a ‘shut-down’ routine at the end of the day, manually closing fume hoods and switching off lights, equipment and computers, and checking that all faucets are turned off. Never leave water distillers or reverse osmosis units running over the weekend.

Manage waste responsibly

Most laboratory procedures generate some form of waste: often a solvent or a by-product. All laboratory waste must be disposed of according to all internal protocols and legal requirements. Ensure that no laboratory waste enters the normal drainage system.

Chemical waste

Chemical waste should be collected in plastic bottles or containers according to type. Avoid the mixing of potentially reactive chemicals. Dispose of chemical waste according to the approved laboratory waste disposal policy.

Radioactive waste

Radioactive liquids should be collected and stored until below exposure limits for disposal. Dispose of radioactive waste according to the approved laboratory waste disposal policy.

Biological waste

Autoclave liquid media to inactivate harmful agents, and neutralize with bleach to inactivate harmful agents. Biological waste is more easily disposed of when completely neutralized.

Environmental audits

Conduct a regular environmental assessment and audit to ensure that all necessary environmental measures are being undertaken and that existing practices are still valid.

Staff training

There is no point in conducting full environmental audits and installing sophisticated environmental measures unless all staff members are committed to reducing the environmental impact of the lab. Staff training is therefore essential so that all employees understand what the goals are and what is expected of them.

Environmental protocols

Ensure that formal systems and protocols for different procedures are drawn up where appropriate, that staff are made aware of them, and that they are readily accessible in the lab.


Hold regular lab meetings to discuss environmental issues and check progress. As well as a practical way of improving compliance, these meetings emphasize the importance of this issue.


There are a number of courses available covering different environmental issues, particularly those pertaining to the laboratory. Staff should be sent on environmental training courses as appropriate.

1. Mahler, S. et al. Energy-saving Strategies for New Research Facilities: Part 2. Lab Design Newsletter. 2010. Available at: http://www.micro-nanonews. com/Lab-Design-News/Articles/2010/10/ Sustainability-Energy-Saving-Strategies-For-New- Research-Facilties-Part-Two/

2. Arc Solare presentation. Canadians and Kyoto. Available at: