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UNIKA-T-Labor Universität Augsburg
© Universität Augsburg

"Green lab work" awarded

Awards & Grants, IEM,

The lab of the Institute of Environmental Health at Helmholtz Munich and the Chair of Environmental Medicine at the University of Augsburg has been awarded a certificate of sustainability.

After a six-month certification process, the six-member sustainability team of environmental medicine is not only proud about having been awarded the highest certification of “green” granted by the non-for-profit organisation “My Green Lab,” but also about winning this year’s so-called Freezer Challenge. This makes the lab one of Germany’s pioneers in sustainability.

“The support and suggestions we received during the certification process greatly assisted us in making sustainability changes to our daily lab routines, accelerating their implementation enormously,” says Vivien Leier-Wirtz, laboratory assistant at the Chair of Environmental Medicine. Together with Amedeo De Tomassi, she guided the environmental medicine team through the certification process, which began in February 2022 with a survey of staff members. Since then, the six-member green lab team, which also includes Aline Metz, Melanie Pawlitzki, Claudia Hülpüsch, and Franziska Neitzel, have met to discuss how they can make energy savings and sustainability improvements to the research process and how to successfully implement them. Leier-Wirtz says, “The changes are sometimes small, sometimes big, but they are all important. Sustainability is an attitude that must be lived.”

Less waste, more recycling

The US-based “My Green Lab” initiative has been recognised by the United Nations “Race to Zero” campaign as a key player in helping pharmaceutical and medical technology companies achieve the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. The certification is considered the gold standard for sustainability best practice for laboratories. The initiative specifies areas where practices could be improved and where changes would be particularly effective and provides extensive material to assist labs in making changes. In addition to lab-specific issues such as water and electricity consumption, carbon emissions released as a result of how one travels to work are also considered, for example.

Lab waste is not commonplace waste. At the Augsburg lab for environmental medicine, waste is now more even more strictly separated or avoided altogether, Leier-Wirtz explains. This starts with simple measures, such as installing several containers at convenient locations, making it easier for staff to separate waste and recycle relevant materials without having to walk extra distances. Another point is the avoidance of waste, including infectious waste. The targeted replacement of hazardous chemicals with more harmless ones is also immensely important. “We have been able to find ways to do this without interfering with research processes. The effort is worth it. After all, there is no replacement planet. There is no planet B,” says Aline Metz. “We recycle a lot more, use a refill system for pipette tips, send back cardboard and Styrofoam boxes, the same goes for cell culture bottles,” says Leier-Wirtz. There are now signs everywhere informing staff about sustainable work practices. In this context, training staff about sustainability within the context of the lab is also very important.

The university lab saves 180 kWh per day

The sustainability team, which includes employees from all areas of the lab, also won the so-called Freezer Challenge in the category “Academic/Large Size Lab.” This international competition, in which more than 1,200 labs from all over the world took part this year, is also organised by the US-based green lab initiative and aims to reduce the energy consumption of refrigeration equipment. “Ultra-low temperature freezers are a big energy guzzler in labs,” explains research technician Amedeo De Tomassi. The university lab now saves 180 kWh a day through many small but effective measures, he says.

Becoming a role model

In Germany, the international “My Green Lab” initiative is not yet very well known. Only ten labs in Germany have so far taken part in the certification process, including the lab at the University of Augsburg. Prof. Claudia Traidl-Hoffmann, the initiator of the project, says, “We want our commitment to become infectious so that we become a role model for other labs. Awareness of sustainability issues is high among scientists.” This is shown by a request from the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg, which invited the Augsburg green lab team to share its expertise in a lecture.