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5 Ways to Increase Sustainability in Your Research Lab

Implementing sustainability doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are 5 ways to conserve energy and reduce waste in your lab. Also, learn what 3 universities have done to be more eco-friendly.

Person recycling plastic bottle

Choosing to be eco-friendly is not about following a trend. Implementing sustainable practices is about taking care of and preserving the Earth so that future generations will also be able to enjoy it. Developing sustainable practices can become habits that can be incorporated into many areas of life, including research labs. Below are some ways to do that.

5 Ways to Make Your Research Lab More Sustainable:

1. Maintain and Use Lab Equipment Wisely

There are small actions that can be taken to get the maximum use out of your lab equipment. To do this, it is important to make sure that every device in your lab is working optimally. Schedule regular maintenance sessions, and turn off equipment that is not essential. Keep freezers organized, clean, and away from heat, and don’t leave freezer doors open. Use natural lighting as much as possible, but don’t forget that sunlight will warm your lab and equipment. Keeping fume hoods closed may save up to $2,000 annually per hood. Finally, consider donating equipment that you no longer use to an organization like Seeding Labs.

2. Use Less Paper

According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper per year. To use less paper and decrease the impact of paper on the environment, consider using smaller font sizes and adjusting the margin width so more content fits on a pge. Also, set your printer to print double-sided, and recycle the paper when you are finished using it. If possible, go paperless. While going paperless poses challenges, such as data storage, security, and IT support, it also has advantages. It saves time, saves space, and makes data analysis and back-ups easier.

3. Save Energy

Did you know you can save about $2 on your monthly energy bill when you put your computer in sleep mode at night? In addition, if you are not going to use your computer for more than 20 minutes, it is better to turn the monitor off. Even with the energy surge that happens when you turn it back on, you will be able to save energy. If you are not going to use your computer for the next two hours, you can save even more energy by turning off the computer and its power bar. Other ways to save energy is to switch to LED lighting and to turn off the lights in your lab at night.

4. Save Water

Decreasing water use can be a fairly simple practice to implement, though it requires being intentional. There are a few ways this can be done. One is to make sure there are no leaks or dripping faucets. Also, if your lab faucets do not have aerators, consider making a request to have them installed. Using an aerator can reduce water rate by 0.7 gallons per minute. If the faucets do already have aerators, make sure that they are not too old. Another way to reduce water use is to use timers on systems that require a large amount of water. Do not waste high-quality water, as it involves a significant amount of energy to produce it. Also, consider using a vacuum pump instead of a vacuum aspirator. By doing this, you may be able to save approximately 238 gallons of water per hour.

5. Begin Composting

To help your lab begin composting, you could contact a compost company in your area and ask if they would pick up waste from your lab. Compostable materials include paper plates, napkins, leftover food, coffee grounds, coffee filters, tea bags, paper towels, toothpicks, and more. You might also consider contacting the head of your department and ask if the university would make a joint effort towards having a composting site where all departments could send their waste. The resulting compost could enrich soil to be used by the university itself or be sold to support the participating laboratories.

3 Universities That Are Promoting Sustainability:

While there are likely many researchers around the globe that are implementing sustainable practices in their labs, below are three universities in Brazil that have embraced sustainability. By doing so, they are inspiring their community of students, professors, researchers, and staff to think about the environment and how their actions affect it.

1. University of São Paulo - USP

The Superintendent of Environmental Management of the University of São Paulo (USP) supports projects on sustainable buildings, greenhouse gas emissions, energy, water, solid waste, effluent, and more. As part of their USP Recicla (USP Recycles) program, their campus restaurants have replaced disposable cups with durable cups, and they have reduced food waste by 70%. They have also implemented selective collection at various campuses, and monographs, dissertations, and theses are being printed on both sides of the paper.

The Project MIT-CCE of USP aims to reuse and discard electronic waste in a sustainable way. USP campuses also have specific laboratories for chemical waste management where part of the chemical waste is reused and recovered, and toxic compounds are degraded. In some cases, a third party is hired to classify, separate, condition, transport, treat, and dispose of hazardous chemical waste. In addition, in 2012, approximately 2165.98 hectare of USP total area was declared to be an Ecological Reserve.

USP’s efforts are being recognized abroad. In 2010, The University of Indonesia (UI) created a new academic ranking, which includes commitment to sustainability. In 2018, a total of 719 institutions from 81 countries were evaluated, and the list published by the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking had listed the name of 23 Brazilian universities. USP was among them and ranked 23rd place on the list.

2. State University of Campinas - UNICAMP

A 36-month project is being developed between the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP) and CPFL Energia, the energy company of the state of São Paulo. This project started in January 2018 and aims to save at least BRL 1 million (about $255,000 US) per year.

Some of the initiatives at UNICAMP include a modern energy consumption measuring system, solar panels, replacement of old air conditioners with energy-efficient ones, use of electric buses inside the campus, and others. With these measures, UNICAMP has demonstrated that preserving energy is a priority to the university.

3. Federal University of Rio de Janeiro - UFRJ

The “Green Fund” (Fundo Verde) of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) receives funds from energy tax exemption, whereby instead of using the money for a specific Brazilian tax, it is instead used in projects aimed at energy efficiency, water consumption reduction, mobility inside the campus, and more.

One of the projects of the Green Fund includes a Solar Panel Parking Lot where solar panels generate energy to be used in the campus while providing shade to the cars. In addition, a system of shared bicycles was created to help students, visitors, residents, and workers of the Fundao Island to move around. The Green Fund has also awarded about 30 research scholarships.

What We Are Doing at AJE to Implement Sustainability

At AJE, we are proud to contribute to sustainability by making eco-friendly choices. One way that we have done this is by doing all of our work online. Working digitally means that we use the minimum possible amount of paper, which preserves trees and the environment. We also have our own compost bin for leftover food, coffee grounds, paper plates, napkins, and other compostable items at our headquarter office in North Carolina. This compost bin is collected by a company that turns the waste into compost, which is used to enrich the soil applied to local community gardens.

By composting, in 2018, we diverted 454 pounds from landfills and created 114 pounds of compost. With that, we avoided the production of 59 pounds of methane and the CO2 equivalent was 1,181 pounds. This is the same as having 4 cars parked for 2 weeks in the garage or not driving 2,581 miles. Our contribution also had the potential to grow 227 tomatoes and 45 plants. (Data provided by the company, CompostNow).

Be a Part of It

Your contribution towards sustainability is essential and can make a huge difference! To be a part of it, use the tips above to implement sustainable practices in your lab, and share this information with your colleagues and friends!


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