Paving the way to lab sustainability with innovative, green-certified instruments

Explore the role of greener purchasing in reducing the environmental impact of scientific research and improving lab sustainability

3 Oct 2023
Jemima Arnold
Editorial Assistant
Researchers and lab managers are seeking innovative ways to meet their sustainability goals. Image: malp ©

As the impacts of climate change have become impossible to ignore, sustainability has taken on a new sense of urgency for governments and organizations worldwide, with many pledging their commitment to drastic change; the science industry and lab sustainability are not exempt from this movement. Globally, laboratories generate an estimated 5.5 billion kilograms of plastic waste per year and consume up to five times more water and ten times more electricity than similarly sized office spaces.[1-2] In response, there is a growing push towards lab sustainability, with researchers and lab managers seeking innovative ways to reduce waste, conserve energy, and minimize their overall impact on the environment.

With this goal in mind, manufacturers of scientific equipment can play a major role in enabling greener science by providing instruments and products designed to reduce waste, energy consumption, and consumable usage, without compromising the quality and reproducibility of results.

In this article, discover expert insights from James Connelly, CEO of My Green Lab, and Dr. Shane Tichy, Associate Vice President of R&D MS Quadrupole Instrumentation at Agilent, on the current standing of sustainability in life sciences, and learn how the two companies are working to reduce the environmental impact of scientific research.

The need for sustainability in life sciences

Connelly and his colleagues at My Green Lab are working to build a culture of sustainability within the scientific community through education, community engagement, and the deployment of market-leading certification tools. While a growing number of researchers are recognizing the need to reduce the environmental impact of their research, Connelly sheds light on the fact that the amount of resources consumed by laboratories is not common knowledge. “Laboratories use five to ten times the amount of energy as a typical commercial office space and five times as much water,” [1-2] he says. “Moreover, they produce 12 billion pounds of plastic waste each year, which was recently measured to be close to 2% of global plastic waste, a number that has probably increased as a result of COVID-19.” [3]

“The impact is truly significant and change needs to happen quickly if we are to meet Paris Climate Agreement targets,” he adds, noting that just 4% of biotech and pharma companies are currently on track to meet the Paris climate goals to limit global warming to 1.5 °C. [4]

Enabling greener purchasing

The opportunity to reduce the environmental impact of scientific research through smarter purchasing decisions is enormous. By procuring instruments that are energy-efficient, designed to reduce waste and consumable use, and have a longer lifespan, labs can operate in a much more sustainable and cost-effective way, benefitting both the environment and their bottom line. According to Tichy, there is a growing trend among customers to prioritize eco-friendly options when purchasing new instruments, including mass spectrometers. “Sustainability is becoming a top priority for companies and scientists across all mass spectrometry markets, driven by the desire to reduce energy usage, minimize waste, and realize cost savings,” he says. “Additionally, customers are increasingly seeking out vendors and collaborators who share their commitment to sustainability.”

To facilitate greener purchasing, one of the key initiatives headed by My Green Lab is the ACT Environmental Impact Factor (EIF) label. The ACT label is aimed at addressing the needs of both scientists and procurement specialists by providing clear, third-party verified information about the environmental impact of laboratory equipment, consumables, and chemicals. Standing for 'accountability, consistency, and transparency’, the ACT label is like an eco-nutrition label for laboratory products. It provides information about the impact of manufacturing, using, and disposing of a product and its packaging – making it easier to choose the most sustainable products on the market.

ACT label for an Agilent InfinityLab LC/MSD iQ valid in the UK
ACT label for an Agilent InfinityLab LC/MSD iQ valid in the UK. Smaller values represent smaller environmental impact.

An industry-leading partnership

As a key partner of My Green Lab, Agilent takes the call to adopt sustainable and ethical practices very seriously. Since partnering with My Green Lab in 2019, many of the Agilent complex analytical instrumentation have been ACT label certified, including instruments from the company’s liquid chromatography, gas chromatography, and mass spectrometry product families. “The ACT label demonstrates Agilent's willingness to be independently audited by a third-party organization,” says Tichy. “ACT label guidelines are standardized between Agilent products and product lines, giving our customers a good base of comparison when looking at the broad portfolio of Agilent instruments when planning to outfit their lab.”

The company was the first to put its LC/MS instruments through the ACT label process, and more than 20 Agilent instruments have now gained ACT labels valid in the EU, UK, and US. These instruments have been carefully developed with resource conservation and reducing carbon footprint in mind.

Agilent LC-MS systems including the 6475 Triple Quadrupole LC/MS, InfinityLab LC/MSD iQ, and Ultivo Triple Quadrupole LC/MS, have all received an ACT label. The InfinityLab LC/MSD iQ, for example, has achieved an Environmental Impact Factor of 49.8 in the US and 46.3 in the UK. This system not only offers reduced energy consumption – the model has also been dematerialized by almost 30% compared to previous versions of the unit. These reductions have resulted in smaller packaging and improved shipping sustainability, all while maintaining industry-leading performance.

Similarly, the Agilent 1290 Infinity II LC System, has undergone a number of improvements that have reduced the instrument’s Environmental Impact Factor – seeing a reduction from 41.0 in the US in 2020, to just 34.2 in 2022. The latest system benefits from enhancements in energy consumption, including a cooler with 50% higher efficiency, an improved lifetime, as well as a reduction in manufacturing impact through additional water and energy savings at the company’s manufacturing facility in Waldbronn, Germany.

Sustainability and design for the environment form the backbone of Agilent’s new product introduction processes, from manufacture, distribution, and use, all the way through disposal, recovery, and reuse of products. Instruments including the Agilent mass spectrometry products are guaranteed to last at least 10 years under the Agilent Value Promise, and the company offers an active take-back or refurbishment program at the end of the product’s life. “During product development, we’re following our own ‘Designing Environmentally Responsible Products and Process Design for the Environment’ guidelines, which cover various aspects of sustainability such as end-of-life recyclability, energy consumption, material consideration, packaging reduction, and waste reduction in transportation,” says Tichy. “The ACT label is also helping in this regard, by providing feedback on areas for improvement, which we are committed to addressing.”

Promoting sustainable practices

Further strengthening Agilent’s commitment to sustainability, the organization is My Green Lab’s first ‘Angel Level’ sponsor and the first sponsor of the My Green Lab Certification program. My Green Lab Certification is considered the global standard for laboratory sustainability best practices and is designed to equip scientists with actionable ways to make meaningful change.

According to Connelly, one of the main challenges of engaging institutions in the certification program is the concern that changes will impact the science itself. “Obviously, if the science isn't working, it's not a truly sustainable solution,” he says. To address this challenge, instead of providing a prescriptive checklist, My Green Lab encourages scientists to question their existing operations, such as the need to keep instruments on overnight, and provides them with the tools to reduce their impact in ways that make sense for their research. To date, the program has supported over 1700 labs in a range of sectors, engaging over 20,000 scientists from 42 different countries.

On the right path

Agilent's partnership with the My Green Lab ACT label program aligns perfectly with the organization's core business model and goal to achieve net zero by 2050. Both companies are committed to promoting sustainable practices and are transparent about their ambitions to lead the way towards a greener future in scientific research. The challenges associated with sustainability are becoming better understood, and while we may have a long way to go to meet global sustainability targets, partnerships such as these are a step in the right direction.

Part of this article is based on the podcast 'Eco-Friendly Innovation: Striving Towards A Greener Planet', part of the Agilent Podcast Series.

Learn more about how to reduce your lab’s environmental impact with sustainability-driven innovations and discover a full range of ACT-labeled products on Agilent’s website >>

ReferencesLaboratories for the 21st Century: An Introduction to Low-Energy Design (revision) ( Against the Flow | STANFORD magazine Urbina, M.A., Watts, A.J.R. & Reardon, E.E. Labs should cut plastic waste too. Nature 528, 479 (2015). New Study finds that just 4% of Biotech & Pharma Companies currently on track to meet Paris 2030 climate goals (2021) My Green Lab. (Accessed: March 31, 2023).