Photo by Rodion Kutsaev
Who are My Green Lab?
This week we caught up with the executive director of My Green Lab, Allison Paradise. My Green Lab is a non-profit organization based in Los Gatos in the Bay Area of California. Their mission is to promote good environmental practice and sustainability in research labs and so far they are making a huge impact. When you first speak to Allison the first thing you notice is just how passionate she is about what she does. She is driven and ambitious about improving sustainability in science, having built the organization from the ground up – not an easy task. So we wanted to know exactly what inspired her to do this.
“As a neuroscientist, I was constantly frustrated by the amount of waste we generated in the lab, particularly the waste that seemed like it could be recycled (pipette tip boxes, cell culture media bottles, etc). I used to take plastic and cardboard from the lab back to my home to recycle! After years of waiting for something to change – and seeing that nothing was changing – I decided to start an organization that focused on sustainability in labs. Although we were initially focused on waste reduction, we quickly realized the opportunities for energy, water, and hazardous chemical/reagent reduction as well, and now we approach lab sustainability more holistically.”
“A single chemical fume hood can use as much energy as 3.5 households every day due to the large volume of air that must be moved through the hood by the ventilation system.”
Challenges for sustainability
One of the most challenging things My Green Lab faces is changing the way scientists think about sustainability and making small changes to their daily routine. Many labs have experimental systems put in place and everybody follows the same protocols day-to-day. Breaking this cycle can be a real challenge. We asked Allison what are some of the biggest challenges she faces to break this cycle and one of the major concerns she gets from scientists is based on increased costs associated with sustainable alternatives.
“People often equate sustainability with increased cost and/or inconvenience. My Green Lab seeks to shift that perspective by demonstrating to scientists that simple, no-cost behavior changes can significantly reduce a lab’s environmental impact.”
“Chemical inventories are a critical component of laboratories. Managing your chemicals well will ensure that you don’t duplicate chemical purchases or possess expired chemicals.”
The future of sustainability
It’s clear from talking to Allison that there has been a great deal of progress made in building awareness of sustainability in science, however it is also clear that there is still a long way to go before it becomes standard daily practice. One of the most important ways to narrow the gap between science and environmental impact is simply through educating people. My Green Lab has made appearances at many scientific conferences to push out the word on sustainability and make scientists more aware of the impact laboratory research has on the environment. The future is looking bright and certainly more green for science and we were curious about what breakthroughs would enable this shift in eco-thinking to happen more smoothly. We asked Allison what future technologies she was most excited about.
1. A group at MIT has developed a low-cost solution for measuring the energy consumption of an individual lab (http://leac.mit.edu/). Providing energy usage data to labs is a great way for them to see the impact of their actions.
2. A company on the east coast of the US, Triumvirate, is continually expanding their capacity for recycling hazardous waste from labs and hospitals. For anyone who has ever worked with cell culture or with animals, this is a welcome change, as much of that waste is classed as hazardous.
3. The ACT label is an eco-nutrition label for lab products. It provides transparency around the environmental impact of manufacturing, using, and disposing of laboratory equipment, consumables, and chemicals. The label employs a simple 1–10 scale for each category, in which 1 represents the least environmental impact and 10 is the highest impact. So it’s a really easy way for people to compare the impact of a product.
4. The Green Chemistry Curriculum Guide was developed by Beyond Benign in collaboration with MilliporeSigma and My Green Lab to help people identify safe, sustainable substitutes for several commonly used chemicals. It provides greener alternatives for common undergrad chemistry experiments.
“Chilling up your ultra-low freezer from -80 to -70 has two major benefits: it can reduce energy consumption by 30%, and in doing so it can prolong the life of your freezer.”
Who is making a difference?
Go to the My Green Lab website you can find a whole range of amazing tips and tricks for making your lab more environmentally friendly. Some of them will seem so obvious and once you hear them, they will change the way you think about general lab practice entirely. We are amazed to hear about the number of places already making fantastic changes in their daily lab life to improve their environmental impact. We asked Allison if she wanted to give a shout out to any institutes or people that have made these changes or helped her along the way and she had this to say.
“Organizations with excellent Green Labs Programs (in no particular order): Harvard, MIT, University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, the University of California school system, Emory University, University of Michigan, University of Colorado Boulder, and Genentech.
Also, shout out to our outstanding Green Labs Program Manager, Erika Daley, who helps manage and support many of the organizations above.”
“Laboratories consume nearly 5x more energy than a typical office space, and are often the largest consumers of energy on any given campus or at any given institution.”
What you can do
Hopefully, this article has got you thinking about some of the changes you can make within your own lab to improve sustainability in science. It doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive, it could be as simple as closing your fume hood after you’ve used it or reusing your gloves. For further advice on how to do this, check out the My Green Lab website today. Or check out some of the other organizations doing similar work: S-Labs in the UK, EGNATON in Germany, SL-Can in Canada, and the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL), all of which are doing a fantastic job to make the world a better, cleaner place to live.
Start making changes today! The environmental reputation of the science community needs your help. Here are some of the top ways to make a difference in making your lab greener.