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New Survey Assesses Attitudes and Actions toward Lab Sustainability 

Feedback from 500 lab managers shows which metrics of sustainability are being prioritized

Ian Black, MSComm, MSc

Ian Black is the assistant editor for LabX. Before joining the team, he obtained a masters in science communication from Laurentian University and an MSc in biology from Brock University....

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Agilent Technologies Inc. has announced the results of a survey conducted by Frost & Sullivan concerning the implementation of sustainability measures in different analytical laboratories across the world. As more laboratories seek to develop more sustainable practices, a better understanding of what measures are being well adopted and where the gaps are can go a long way in informing lab managers about their policies. 

To that end, the findings of this survey highlight key trends in how lab managers approach sustainability practices and offer insights into how vendors can help labs meet their sustainability goals.

Key results

Making use of a two-phased approach, the survey began with 100 qualitative phone interviews followed by online interviews completed by 500 lab personnel in Asia, Europe, the US, and UK. The labs ranged from disciplines such as life science, pharma, and biopharma (50 percent) to energy and chemistry, forensic and drug testing, environmental testing, and food testing (50 percent). The leading number of respondents came from commercial or industrial labs (23 percent), followed by independent or contract labs (20 percent), academic labs (19 percent), government organizations (19 percent), and non-profit research organizations (19 percent). 

Of the labs surveyed, 82 percent have already adopted some sustainability measures with a high focus on reducing carbon emissions (72 percent), reducing water and energy consumption (68 percent), and improving waste management (60 percent). Respondents indicated the two main reasons for improving sustainability in the lab were to improve efficiency and to ensure safety and health from an environmental perspective (67 and 65 percent respectively). Eighty six percent of UK respondents have indicated that they have adopted sustainability metrics, with 80 and 81 percent adopting them in China and the US respectively. The most common sustainability action taken—reducing emissions—is most significant in the UK (76 percent), in environmental testing (76 percent), and in life science research (75 percent).

While the drive to build a more sustainable future in research is commendable, there are certain areas that are still lacking. The survey indicated that only 19 percent of respondents employ re-use and redistribution approaches to consumables, 18 percent make use of renewable resources, and 12 percent focus on sustainable procurement. In addition to continuing to improve waste management and lower emissions, tackling these other areas could have a significant impact in helping labs become more environmentally friendly. 

Steps to take to improve sustainability

A great first step to improving sustainability in your lab is to take advantage of a consulting service to identify opportunities for better efficiency. More than half of respondents indicated interest in making use of services like this. It is also advised that labs track metrics related to sustainability by acquiring the appropriate instrumentation or by requesting that future systems support sustainability tracking. These metrics should track resource consumption, carbon emissions, waste, and sustainable development index score.

Responses from survey participants demonstrate that there is high demand for vendors to collaborate with labs to help with sustainability efforts. Many labs are now seeking out vendors who can provide recycling services for used equipment, have instrument refurbishing initiatives, and make sustainability a key factor in the development of future devices. Neil Rees, head of Agilent’s ESG Programs said: “As our customers’ definition of sustainability expands, it’s incumbent on us to be ahead of the curve in understanding their needs. Independent surveys such as this provide clear and impartial feedback, identifying trends and gaps that we can action, to continue to provide solutions that help ensure our customers' sustainability goals are met or exceeded.”

Lab managers should also be on the lookout for ACT labels to better understand the environmental impacts of new equipment.

Research and industrial labs produce extensive amounts of waste and can have notoriously high environmental impacts. It is up to lab managers and vendors to work together to build more sustainable research practices and lower the environmental cost of research. Surveys like this one can help lab managers make more informed decisions and succeed in meeting their sustainability goals.