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Striding towards Sustainability in Science

The scientific industry has long been associated with high resource consumption, wastage, and environmental harm. However, over the past decade, there has been a growing recognition of the need for sustainability in laboratory practices. This has led to numerous initiatives by scientific organisations, companies, and researchers to reduce their environmental footprint and promote sustainability.

In this blog post, we discuss how the scientific industry is becoming more sustainable in its practices.

Green Chemistry

Green chemistry is an approach to chemical design and production that aims to minimise the use of hazardous chemicals and reduce waste generation. First articulated in the 1990s by Paul Anastas and John Warner, it has since become widely adopted as a framework for designing and evaluating chemical processes and products.

The 12 principles of green chemistry are:

  1. Prevention: It is better to prevent waste than to clean it up after it has been created.
  2. Atom economy: Processes should maximise the use of all materials involved, and waste should be minimised.
  3. Less hazardous chemical syntheses: The use of hazardous substances should be minimised, and if possible, avoided altogether.
  4. Designing safer chemicals: Chemical products should be designed to be less harmful to human health and the environment.
  5. Safer solvents and reaction conditions: The use of solvents and reaction conditions that are safer and more sustainable should be prioritised.
  6. Design for energy efficiency: Chemical processes should be designed to minimise energy consumption and promote energy efficiency.
  7. Use of renewable feedstocks: The use of renewable feedstocks should be prioritised, and non-renewable resources should be used sparingly.
  8. Reduce derivatives: The generation of derivatives should be minimised, and alternative strategies should be explored.
  9. Catalysis: The use of catalysts should be prioritised to reduce waste and increase efficiency.
  10. Design for degradation: Chemical products should be designed to be easily broken down into non-hazardous substances after use.
  11. Real-time analysis for pollution prevention: Processes should be monitored in real-time to prevent pollution and minimise waste.
  12. Inherently safer chemistry for accident prevention: Chemical processes and products should be designed to minimise the risk of accidents and ensure worker safety.

Green chemistry has many benefits, including reducing the environmental impact of chemical processes, improving human health and safety, and reducing the costs of waste disposal. In addition, green chemistry can lead to the development of new and innovative products and technologies that are more sustainable and efficient.

Many companies and academic institutions are now incorporating the principles of green chemistry into their research and development processes. For example, pharmaceutical companies are exploring new ways to reduce the environmental impact of drug production, while universities are incorporating green chemistry into their curricula to train the next generation of chemists to think more sustainably.

Overall, green chemistry is gaining popularity among scientific industries and researchers because it has the potential to revolutionise the chemical industry and promote a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future. By prioritising the principles of green chemistry in research and development, we can create chemical products and processes that are safer, more efficient, and better for the planet and human health.

Energy Efficiency

The scientific industry consumes a significant amount of energy, particularly in areas such as heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), lighting, and equipment. In recent years, there has been a focus on reducing energy consumption in labs using energy-efficient equipment and practices. This includes some of the following:

  1. Energy-Efficient Equipment: One of the key strategies employed to enhance energy efficiency is the use of energy-efficient laboratory equipment. Manufacturers have been developing lab instruments and appliances with improved energy-saving features. For example, modern fume cupboards are designed to optimise airflow, reducing the amount of conditioned air that needs to be supplied. Energy-efficient centrifuges, refrigerators, freezers, and incubators are also becoming increasingly available, equipped with advanced insulation, variable-speed compressors, and better temperature control mechanisms.
  1. Lighting Upgrades: Lighting constitutes a significant portion of a lab’s energy consumption. By transitioning from traditional lighting systems to energy-efficient alternatives, labs can achieve significant energy savings. LED lighting, in particular, has gained popularity due to its longevity, reduced energy consumption, and improved lighting quality. Motion sensors and automatic dimming controls can further enhance energy efficiency by ensuring that lights are only active when necessary and adjusting their intensity based on ambient lighting conditions and occupancy.
  1. HVAC Optimisation: Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems play a crucial role in maintaining the desired temperature and air quality within laboratories. Optimising HVAC systems can result in substantial energy savings. Labs are increasingly adopting energy management systems that utilise advanced controls and sensors to regulate airflow, temperature, and humidity based on real-time demand. Additionally, regular maintenance, cleaning, and calibration of HVAC equipment help ensure optimal performance and energy efficiency.
  1. Smart Power Management: Smart power management practices are being implemented in laboratories to minimise energy waste. This involves utilising power-saving features on equipment and computers, encouraging researchers and staff to switch off equipment when not in use, and implementing automated shutdown protocols during non-operational hours. Power monitoring systems can provide real-time data on energy consumption, enabling labs to identify areas of high usage and implement targeted energy-saving measures.
  1. Energy Audits and Certification Programmes: Many labs are conducting energy audits to assess their current energy usage and identify opportunities for improvement. Energy audits help identify areas of inefficiency, quantify energy consumption, and provide recommendations for energy-saving measures. Additionally, labs are seeking certifications such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable practices and to receive recognition for their energy-efficient designs and operations.

By prioritising energy efficiency, the scientific industry can significantly reduce its environmental impact and operational costs. Implementing energy-efficient equipment, upgrading lighting systems, optimising HVAC, adopting smart power management practices, and conducting energy audits are all critical steps towards achieving a more sustainable and energy-conscious laboratory environment. Through these efforts, labs can contribute to mitigating climate change while maintaining the highest standards of scientific research and innovation.

Waste Reduction

The scientific industry generates a large amount of waste, including hazardous and non-hazardous waste. In response, many organisations have implemented waste reduction programs to minimise their environmental impact. These programs include:

  1. Recycling Initiatives: Recycling plays a pivotal role in waste reduction. Laboratories are establishing comprehensive recycling programs for various materials, including glassware, plastic containers, paper, and cardboard. By segregating and recycling these items, labs can divert a significant amount of waste from ending up in landfills, conserving resources and reducing carbon emissions associated with manufacturing new materials.
  1. Composting Organic Waste: In line with the principles of a circular economy, composting organic waste has gained traction in laboratory settings. Labs are separating organic waste, such as food scraps and plant matter, and diverting them to composting facilities. The resulting nutrient-rich compost can be utilised in landscaping or gardening, promoting sustainable practices and reducing the need for chemical fertilisers.
  1. Hazardous Waste Management: Proper disposal of hazardous waste is crucial to protect the environment and human health. Laboratories are meticulously adhering to regulations governing the collection, storage, and disposal of hazardous materials. They employ specialist waste management services that handle and treat hazardous waste in compliance with stringent regulations. This ensures that harmful substances do not contaminate soil, water, or air, safeguarding ecosystems and public safety.

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  1. Waste Minimisation Strategies: The scientific industry is actively embracing waste minimisation strategies to reduce overall waste generation. By implementing efficient inventory management systems, labs can avoid overstocking materials, thus preventing unnecessary waste. Additionally, researchers are developing innovative methods to reduce sample volumes, enabling significant waste reduction without compromising the quality of scientific experiments.

By prioritising effective waste management strategies, laboratories in the UK are making significant strides towards reducing their environmental footprint. Recycling initiatives, composting organic waste, proper management of hazardous materials, waste minimisation strategies, sustainable packaging, and educational efforts all contribute to a more sustainable scientific industry. By embracing these practices, laboratories demonstrate their commitment to environmental stewardship and contribute to a greener future.

Sustainable Materials

The adoption of sustainable packaging and consumables is gaining momentum in laboratories across the UK. Scientific organisations are opting for biodegradable or recyclable alternatives to traditional plastic consumables. These include eco-friendly pipette tips, bio-based plastics, and packaging materials derived from renewable sources. By choosing sustainable options, labs are contributing to the circular economy and reducing their reliance on fossil fuel-based plastics. Here are some notable examples:

  1. Biodegradable Plastics: Traditional plastics have been a major environmental concern due to their long decomposition periods. However, the emergence of biodegradable plastics provides a viable solution. These plastics are designed to break down naturally over time, reducing their impact on landfills and ecosystems. By incorporating biodegradable plastics in laboratory consumables such as pipette tips and petri dishes, labs can significantly reduce plastic waste.
  1. Recycled Materials: Embracing the concept of the circular economy, labs are exploring the use of recycled materials whenever possible. Recycled plastics, glass, and metals can be utilised in various laboratory applications. By opting for recycled materials, labs reduce the demand for raw resources, decrease energy consumption during production, and divert waste from landfills.
  1. Sustainable Alternatives: In addition to biodegradable plastics and recycled materials, there is a growing availability of sustainable alternatives to traditional laboratory consumables. For instance, eco-friendly lab gloves made from natural latex or sustainably sourced materials are now available. Similarly, sustainable laboratory furniture made from responsibly harvested wood or recycled materials is gaining popularity. By opting for these sustainable alternatives, labs can align their practices with environmental goals.

Adopting sustainable materials in laboratory practices not only reduces the environmental impact of scientific research but also serves as a catalyst for innovation in the industry. By supporting the development and use of sustainable materials, the scientific community can drive the advancement of eco-friendly solutions while promoting a more sustainable future.

Collaborative Efforts

Collaborative efforts are essential for promoting sustainability in the scientific industry. By working together, scientific organisations, researchers, and companies can share best practices, resources, and expertise to promote sustainability. This includes collaborations between academic institutions, research organisations, and industry partners.

Raising awareness and providing education on sustainable practices is an essential aspect of sustainable laboratory operations. Scientific organisations can organise training sessions and workshops to educate researchers and lab personnel about waste segregation, handling, and disposal. By empowering individuals with knowledge, labs foster a culture of sustainability and ensure that practices are consistently followed.


In conclusion, the scientific industry is becoming more sustainable in its practices through the adoption of green chemistry, energy efficiency, waste reduction, the use of sustainable materials, and collaborative efforts. The shift towards sustainability in laboratory practices is essential for reducing the environmental impact of scientific research and promoting a sustainable future. By adopting sustainable practices, the scientific industry can continue to make important advancements while minimising its environmental footprint.

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