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Sustainable laboratory design: turning ambition into reality

Find out how we can assist with creating a sustainable laboratory design through fit-out, refurbishment and social wellbeing.

5 min read

The magnitude of the environmental challenges the world is facing is especially magnified in the scientific sector. Not only because many industry labs are high contributors to carbon emissions, but also because their laboratory requirements continue to evolve and so with it does the design and fit-out work.

With an average lab using approximately four to five times more energy than its standard workplace equivalent, Lab Managers and Owners are beginning to recognise the responsibility they have to encourage a more sustainable outlook in their business and consequently the way their labs are designed.

CMR Surgical project

Sustainability, innovation and design

As Scientists become more ecological with their research, they’re diminishing the use of processes that involve disposable raw materials, long term sample storage needs, transportation and shipping of reagents and other workflows that were once non-negotiable.  

Sustainability has been a long-standing contender at the forefront of innovation, especially in the scientific industry, which includes when considering the effects that laboratories required to accelerate such work can have on the environment.

Awareness of current actions and the long term impacts they will have, has been a driving force for a substantial amount of time. Automation, for example, was predicted to decrease the size of laboratories and thus the output of emissions and waste materials but rather had the opposite effect. Laboratories are now filled with more equipment and in certain instances, the premise size required for such equipment is more than if it were to be filled with lab staff.

One thing that Lab Managers and Lab Owners are becoming more aware of is their laboratory space and the considerations that can be made to design a laboratory that is not only sustainable now but for the foreseeable future.

A green wall built within a meeting pod.

How to design your laboratory sustainably?

Sustainable laboratory design offers huge opportunities for improving your corporate environmental, social and governance goals (ESG). Which not only makes you more competitive in a market filled with strategic partnerships, but also with the hiring and retention of next generation talent.

Navigating the highly technical standards, including energy and water requirements, imposed on design planning is just one of many hurdles that must be considered when creating sustainable laboratories. 

Regardless of refurb, retrofit or a brand-new concept, committing to creating a sustainable approach in the way that labs are designed and executed incorporates several aspects:

Optimising laboratory space

New build laboratories are able to accommodate considerations of sustainability from the outset, this is because these projects provide opportunities to start incorporating sustainability goals in advance for each of the various stages of design.

Immediately we think of reducing energy consumption and facilitating greener science, but realistically a lab space spans much further than this. Considerations such as lighting, use of sustainable materials, waste disposal and recycling all optimise a space regardless of the processes which flow through it.

Nevertheless, whilst creating the new home for Colorcon in Dartford, the brief involved both sustainability aspirations and increasing the scientific performance of their team. Although the latter prevailed, this is just one of many examples where partnering laboratory workflows with sustainable workspace design simultaneously achieved an increase in productivity whilst limiting waste.

Managing the space available, during a design and build process, against the workflow requirements can easily result in an innovative space much like Colorcon’s, which aimed for zero waste to landfill. 

Efficiency and accuracy are inherent when planning any fit-out. Often, without realising, a design that employs workflow productivity at its core will result in smaller, less obvious outputs that are still sustainable improvements. Reduced risk of human error and monitored recycled waste performance to name a few.

Colourcon project

Working towards a green certified workplace

With future-proof, smart design features and maintenance plans, laboratories that operate in a joint office space can achieve a green certification that will ensure they continue to act sustainably well into the future.

A sustainable office (green) certification is a way of helping ensure a long-term commitment to sustainability is made. With a variety of certifications available, it’s simple to align an accreditation with companywide ESG goals and budget. The certifications provide several initiatives that can be implemented in a workplace to reduce environmental footprint, improve job satisfaction, increase employee loyalty, productivity, efficiency and more.

Using redesign and refurbishment opportunities

Using what is readily available in your current lab design and space widens opportunities to introduce more efficient and up to date ways of working. This is more commonly known as retrofitting. By incorporating furniture, materials and other assets in an existing lab and reusing them, environmental and financial costs are reduced.

The impact of reusing a number of partitions, doors and tea points in the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative’s project, not only retained materials but radically transformed the workspace and enhanced flexibility for different working styles. Highlighting that a lab of tomorrow can be created using the materials of today.

Labs can quickly become outdated; with the life sciences sector continuing to advance in technology and businesses continuing to grow. By planning and making sustainable furniture choices at the concept of design, retrofitting and refurbishment is a guaranteed option for future requirements.

Oil and Gas Climate Initiative project

Addressing energy consumption in laboratories

Equipment in the industrial, medical and pharmaceutical sectors is vast and highly technical, and consequently, the largest culprits for energy consumption. Freezers, fume hoods and water baths are examples of many items in a lab that are arguably necessary for high outputs to be achieved.

Unsurprisingly, an ultra-low temperature freezer uses as much energy as the average household every day. Much like draining water baths roughly equates to as much energy as that of an air conditioning unit every hour.

Conducting a laboratory walk-around offers insight into where your laboratory design can improve. A consultation of this kind is imperative in identifying potential drawbacks in sustainability goals and working towards alternative solutions.

Opting to make sustainable adjustments to essential pieces of equipment including active hours or working temperatures and replacing or removing duplicated equipment can all be advised by our compliance and MEP team.

Building a sustainable culture

Powerful, well thought-out workspace design expresses corporate culture, aspirations, and ideals. Not only does it communicate your company values to visitors, stakeholders, and clients but it will also reinforce them in employees.

Workplaces are highly dependent on those who occupy them. As sustainability and environmental awareness builds in employees both at home and at work, employers must ensure their workplace puts ESG values at the forefront of the spaces they create.

Workplace design has a pivotal role to play in driving forward both the actions that protect our environment and promoting the culture that underpins them.

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