Lab sustainability initiatives are here to stay
Samantha Black, PhD, Head of Content, Elemental Machines
Did you know that labs consume five to ten times as much energy as standard office space? That’s equivalent to the same energy usage as 360,000 urban homes*. What’s more, the pandemic has thrust science into the spotlight, and as a result, the life science research sector is booming. This means the demand for lab space has vastly increased, with over 31 million square feet of life-sciences space under development in the fourth quarter of 2021, according to the Wall Street Journal. The cumulative impact has made the already valuable benchtop space even more pricey.
Biotech and pharmaceutical companies absorb these high costs as part of the price of doing science. Yet, the ownership of these high expenditures is often assumed by laboratory operations (LabOps) managers, lab directors, and/or facilities managers. These individuals bear the burden of overseeing the high energy-consumptive equipment and buildings.
Additionally, the pharmaceutical industry is severely lagging behind other industries in Net Zero Initiatives to become carbon neutral by 2030. With the deadline quickly approaching, the organizational execution of sustainability mandates will likely fall on the shoulders of LabOps and facilities managers.
The pressure to maintain these pieces of equipment efficiently, while also managing the expectations of scientists who are under constant strict deadlines can be quite a challenging task. When schedules dictate that equipment must be operational nearly 24/7, any efficiency/sustainability aspirations seem dire. But a few vendors have emerged to help lab managers’ jobs easier by helping them to work smarter, and not harder.
With a little help from insight software, lab managers/directors and facilities managers can pivot from a firefighting mentality to tackling sustainable energy initiatives with a proactive strategic approach. Imagine if an app could tell you that a piece of equipment such as a freezer or incubator, maintained around the clock, is being underutilized. This insight could be used by LabOps teams to decide to decommission and eliminate an asset from the lab completely. The Element U from Elemental Machines can provide real-time data on the on/off/idle status of equipment in any lab. Each instrument removed can result in huge energy savings in the lab.
In another scenario, software insights gleaned from equipment monitoring solutions can help LabOps managers optimize equipment usage so that the assets run at peak performance, avoiding excessive energy consumption caused by equipment working overtime. For instance, Elemental Machines’ usage app can provide lab managers with the number of door open events on each freezer in their lab. If one freezer is opened 50 times a day and the other only three times, the lab manager may re-evaluate how samples are stored and if efficiencies can be gained by eliminating unneeded samples or by using high-density storage boxes (i.e.13×13 dividers or smaller tubes).
Lastly, an easy way to improve energy efficiency in any lab is through schedule management. The Elemental Machines’ calendar app can help LabOps managers easily track when equipment is booked and used. Avoiding scheduling conflicts can keep teams on track and prevent scientists/lab technicians (ad equipment) from working overtime.
These seemingly small changes in the lab, can transform lab operations and help organizations achieve their sustainability and energy reduction goals. If you are interested in learning more about green initiatives in the lab and practices that can help LabOps team achieve their goals, please visit us at www.elementalmachines.com.
Written by Samantha Black, PhD, Head of Content, Elemental Machines
The discussion surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak is just one example of mass-spread misinformation. Microbiologist Dr Elisa Granato woke up to the news of her death plastered all over social media in April 2020. The internet claimed that she had died following the administration of a COVID-19 vaccine under clinical trial, in which she was one of the first UK volunteers. Dr Granato tweeted that morning that she was, in fact, ‘doing fine’ and requested that people do not share the article in an attempt to avoid giving it attention (a request that was very much ignored, even within the thread of her tweet). This is just a glimpse into the misinformation and conspiracy theories circulated during the pandemic.
The mass of false information online relating to COVID-19 has been called the ‘Infodemic’. This is defined as an oversupply of information – including false or misleading information – that spreads alongside a disease outbreak. The infodemic was recognised as a major challenge in the COVID-19 pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The infodemic has been a global challenge, and the spread of misinformation amongst those in the UK led to vaccine hesitancy (and protest), a lack of public cooperation with contact-tracing efforts, and non-compliance with public health measures. Unproven cures and opinions marketed as absolute truth also combated the pandemic response. The consequences of misinformation have been widespread and severe, and this is just one example of the issue – there is plenty of misinformation and ‘fake news’ surrounding other important challenges such as climate change and space exploration too.
So how can we prevent the spread of scientific misinformation and the consequences? It must be a collective effort between governments, social media and digital platform corporations, and science and healthcare professionals. Policymakers can initiate effective measures to tackle the challenge, social media firms can implement more effective reporting processes (which is already happening somewhat) or inform users when incorrect posts have become common and widely read.
But what can scientists working in laboratories do to help?
Firstly, it is crucial to understand why communities have questions or concerns, and it is essential to learn what they are. The information vacuum in a pandemic, or any other scientific crisis, is likely to be filled by misinformation. It is, therefore, crucial to listen to people, conduct research to identify their key concerns and provide accurate and measured responses.
Secondly, professionals must be trained in communication relating to issues in their respective fields. In the absence of training, they do not have sufficient skills to communicate messages clearly. Once trained, influential and reliable experts can actively engage in advising people in a way they understand.
Finally, it is essential to encourage and empower various communities to take action. It is not enough to wait for misinformation; individuals should be encouraged to proactively share information through trusted sources, promptly and transparently.
Just as the infodemic has been a challenge throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, false information will continue to be a challenge in future scientific crises. Tackling misinformation will be just as important as any other response, especially where collective action is crucial for safety, survival and progress.
If you would like the opportunity to discuss current challenges in the industry, don’t forget to register your interest in attending Lab Innovations, 2 & 3 November at NEC, Birmingham.