The Hill Lab, in the La Trobe Institute of Molecular Science, has found creative ways to cut energy use and recycle most waste.
Lab Head, Professor Andy Hill said: “Scientists have been warning about climate change for decades, and researchers frequently make medical and technological discoveries that change our lives, yet the lab work behind these breakthroughs is often extremely energy intensive and creates a lot of waste.”
Professor Hill said the changes ranged from small – like turning off machines to save power - to large - like changing aspects of experiments, and cutting back on the number of freezers cooling to -80 deg C.
“It’s all helping make us a greener lab, without affecting our scientific research,” Professor Hill said.
According to the US-based My Green Lab, laboratories use about ten-times more energy than an office and four-times as much water. Many consumable products found in laboratories are single-use only and require dense packaging resulting in a large amount of plastic waste.
My Green Lab CEO James Connelly said: “La Trobe University's Green Lab Certification, the first in Australia, is a major milestone for the global green lab movement,” Mr Connelly said.
“Through engaging scientists on laboratory sustainability best practices through My Green Lab's program, La Trobe is truly making real and impactful changes across their laboratories. By achieving a Green Level lab certification they are setting the bar, and inspiring the rest of the region to follow suit."
Hill Lab researcher, Dr Eduard Willms, led the push for certification.
“We wanted to build a culture of sustainability within our lab, within La Trobe University and to encourage sustainability within academia and the scientific world. We’re also proud to be contributing to La Trobe’s commitment to achieving NetZero carbon emissions by 2029,” Dr Willms said.
The Hill Lab was assessed on benchmarks including water use, material management, green chemistry, recycling and waste reduction, fume hoods, and energy use.
Dr Willms said it took about a year to implement the changes needed for certification, but those changes were now second nature to the team.
Australia’s first My Green Lab certified laboratory now:
- Has convenient recycling stations
- Recycles all soft plastic wrapping, styrofoam, hard plastics and e-waste used in genomic testing
- Uses more energy-efficient heated metal bead baths instead of water baths for keeping samples warm in experiments
- Cuts electricity usage by changing practices, including turning off machines not in use and installing outlet timers
- Has changed to experimental protocols to reduce or eliminate harmful chemicals
- Saves water through low flow aerators on taps
- Uses a more energy efficient freezer and operates with one less freezer and fridge
- Uses energy-efficient lighting
- Has trained all lab members on Green Lab practices
The My Green Lab research project received funding from La Trobe’s Net Zero Fund, which is sponsored by Lawrence & Hanson, Specialised Lighting Solutions (SLS) and its global parent Sonepar. The $500,000 fund was established in 2020 as part of the University’s Net Zero program, to provide support to staff, students and stakeholders through research, scholarships and student initiatives.
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