Why build a sustainable lab?MarcusCannon
The average lab uses a lot of energy. In fact, it uses somewhere around five times as much energy as a regular office building. Not only does this mean higher bills (water, electricity, ventilation etc.) but it also means a higher cost to the environment. Increasingly, laboratories are looking to future-proof and build sustainability into their renovations and redesigns. But just what is a ‘sustainable’ lab and how does a planner go about achieving these aims?
What is a sustainable lab?
A sustainable lab seeks to minimise the impact it has on the environment. It’s widely known that labs consume large amounts of energy and water and so the trick is to find ways to reduce consumption without adversely affecting operations. The process of making a lab more sustainable should involve at least some of the following key aspects:
- More efficient use of materials
- Improvements to the lab to increase productivity
- Reduction of harmful waste
- Increased recycling and improved usage of products with recycled content
- Increased energy or water conservation
Why is creating a sustainable lab challenging?
A lab differs from other workplaces because you can’t simply switch the lights off at the end of the working day. Laboratories generally run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week as a number of vital processes can’t easily be shut down. Furthermore, lab equipment usually consumes energy at a higher rate than, say, a regular desktop PC, while many safety processes require precise, energy-rich waste removal to limit the chance of exposure to hazardous waste.
What are the benefits?
Despite the unique requirements for lab work, building sustainability is undoubtedly a good idea. At its most basic form, a sustainable lab saves energy, which saves money, which means a better bottom line for the facility. But, the benefits run even deeper. Think of it this way, if your lab finds a way to minimise the high levels of heat produced by a certain experiment, you may be able to use a smaller air handling unit. This, in turn, could reduce the level of physical space you need, making for a more efficient lab with the ability to handle a higher workload.
What are the main challenges?
To put it bluntly, some sustainable options are just not feasible in a lab. Certain research demands specific equipment that will inevitably use high levels of energy, space and water. Plus, the precise nature of the work means labs require an extraordinary level of reliability.
Lab planners need to consider all of this when contemplating any sustainability renovations. Different labs serve different functions and it’s possible that some may find it easier to implement sustainable changes than others. Often though, there is no quick-fix solution and labs must adapt to keep up with the changing times. Safety is, of course, another major factor. No changes can be implemented without the health and safety implications being considered
How do I ace a sustainability upgrade?
It’s not easy but it’s worth it, check out a few of our tips for implementing your lab sustainability upgrade.
- Safety first…
The main goal of any such project must be to balance sustainability with health and safety. Certain experiments will require materials that may not be reusable or recyclable yet, not ideal but safety comes first.
- …then lab, then sustainability
Of course, sustainability is hugely important but as we’ve discussed, there’s no one-size-fits-all procedure when it comes to renovations. A synthetic chemistry lab, for example, may struggle to streamline its carbon footprint much (if at all). Aim for your design to have a low carbon footprint and emit low amounts of wastage but be realistic.
Many older labs simply weren’t designed with sustainability in mind and a renovation of the current space may be perfectly possible and have the results you desire but for others still, a whole new lab could be the way to go.
- Involve the whole team
Aim to include as many stakeholders as possible in your sustainability project. Your health and safety specialists should be involved as a matter of course but seek to also include lab users. Engineers and architects will need to understand exactly how the lab will be used in order to make it work for you. The more input you get from other stakeholders, the more successful your reformation will be.
Sustainable lab design is growing more and more essential as each year passes and organisations seek to limit the impact they have on the planet around them and cut budgets. Planning ahead is vital and while the renovation may incur a large financial outlay, you should see yourself making that back in the near future.
If you’re planning a sustainable redesign, get in touch with a member of our team to see if we could help. For more information about our bespoke fitted labs, visit our homepage or call our team on 01223 894 833.