Green Education - Discovering Opportunities For Sustainable Action

Published 2 months ago • 4 min read

Personal Note From The Editor

Good morning Reader great to see you! Hope you have had a joyful week.

I was often asked to give advice on identifying opportunities to be more sustainable. To be honest, I think there is one secret it all comes down to. One that most do not know about. And I would like to share that with you right here.

Today's Lesson: Identifying Opportunities

3 Approaches to discover possibilities for sustainable actions in the laboratory.

Number Of The Day

Switching from a 50mL canonical tube to a 15mL one will save about 50% of plastics. The very same counts if one exchanges a 1.5mL tube for a PCR microtube. Of course, you should be able to pipette comfortably but for most applications, it is totally fine to just leave 5-10% dead volume.

50% Less

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Discovering Green Actions

There are three main approaches when it comes to identifying opportunities in the laboratory. They will come in handy if you just start but also when having more experience, revisiting them can be of great value:

1) Associative Approach

This one is really about screening through your laboratory in a certain way. You can literally just walk through it or look through all your protocols and consider where you A) throw something away B) use something up that you need to replenish C) need energy/electricity.

Of course, you can also reverse the strategy and try to identify what you associate with plastic, water, chemicals, electricity use etc. in your laboratory and note all of those down. It is all about the connections of your processes and footprints.

Advantage: Similar approaches have been used for quite a while, for example the ECOMAPPING(TM) approach as used by Kerstin Hermuth-Kleinschmidt

Disadvantage: It is easy to oversee something when you are new to the topic and try to do it alone.

2) Screening Approach

You do not need to reinvent the wheel.

There is already a lot of information out there. Just google “Green Sustainable Laboratory Practices List” and then you can find multiple lists of suggested actions.

You go through them and identify which might also apply to your lab.

Advantage: You will get inspiration from various sources and get precise tips. Two useful resources are the UPenn and UCL guides.

Disadvantage: This is a lot of reading and it will feel pretty mechanically. Also, often these tips are either very general or very specific.

3) The Gamification Approach

Yes, you read properly! You can make it a game. And this is also what my little secret is about. You do not need to learn how to identify new opportunities.

Much more efficient and fun is to find the emotional trigger to make your mind figure them out for you. Automatically.

What most often prevents us from optimization (and thus, sustainability) is habit, convenience, and automatic action. Inhibiting our auto-pilot by giving our mind a novel and unfamiliar motivation will make it figure out opportunities to satisfy the new drive.

Yes indeed! For example: pretend you have your own little lab but since you just started, you do not have a lot of financial power. Still, every item, every reagent and every kWh of energy costs money ... Now: Save as much money as possible! Of course, this game involves that you have to pay for your waste disposal as well. Instead of using money, you can also play dooms-day - nobody takes your waste and that your electrictiy grid is unstable (thus, you want to use it as rarely as possible).

PS: Try to measure your baseline expenses (through waste and energy etc.) over a week and then see how much you can reduce it. Talk to your superior and negotiate whether you can can get a share of the money back for you or a project.
Also available as a "race" against colleagues 😉

Advantage: Motivates to identify opportunities also within experiments (e.g., saving antibodies or changing settings of machines).

Disadvantage: You might find yourself unable to stop seeing opportunities for the next 2 months.

Applying The Knowledge

When taking action, there are two aspects we want to advise you:

1) Involve your colleagues. Ask them for their thoughts, maybe they see aspects you would have never considered. Also, especially when it comes to turning of machines, creating an “energy plan” with others will prove helpful and avoid frustration.

2) Experience comes with time. However, take these examples as a check whether you would have considered them:

  • Changing pipetting orders and preparing master mixes
  • Putting more samples on a single slide in microscopy
  • Rethinking methods such as eluents for HPLC or colony-forming unit analysis

Take Away:

Next Lesson:

Diving deeper into recycling and what it means for the opportunities you identified.

Asking You

Just by reusing materials for mammalian cell and bacterial culture, by how much can one reduce one's own footprints approximately?


By 20%


By 50%


By 90%

When you click you can vote and see the result!

How We Feel Today

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Otherwise, wish you a beatiful week!
See you again the 21st : )

Find the previous lesson here.

Edited by Patrick Penndorf
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