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Improving Sustainability in Cell Culture Laboratories


All organisations and businesses are increasingly expected to try and improve the sustainability of their operations, and this is also important for facilities performing cell culture. Improving sustainability also brings a number of benefits in research and production settings. In this article we take a look at how to make a laboratory performing cell culture into a leaner, greener and more effective operation and why its important.

The benefits of a more sustainable lab

While the primary goal of improving a facility’s sustainability (i.e. limiting impact on the natural environment) is a worthy and important objective, it can also have a number of other benefits:

Cost-savings – higher operating efficiency and lower energy use can result in significant financial savings on an ongoing basis.

More accurate and reliable results
– sustainable measures can often lead to equipment enhancements, and a more streamlined, focused and cleaner set of processes that can generate better results.

Enhanced perception
– with sustainability increasingly important to clients and consumers, labs which take serious steps to developing a greener operation will benefit from an enhanced reputation.

Increased morale
– many employees share similar values towards sustainability as customers, so a greater focus on green processes will improve their opinion of their workplace, and lead to better performance.

Talent attraction
– potential employees want to work for organisations that share their values, and an improvement to sustainability can help you attract high quality scientists looking for a greener employer.

While there may be many reasons why you want to improve the sustainability of your laboratory, above and beyond the benefits listed above may give you a few extra, the rest of this article is concerned with how to achieve.

Manage lab space effectively

The resource and energy requirements of laboratories and clean rooms are one of the major contributing factors to overall sustainability of a cell culture process. Through improving coordination and laboratory-sharing it is possible to make significant savings, while also maximising equipment up time. Better management of your facilities will also simplify administration and enable more efficient maintenance.

A coordinated laboratory can shift responsibility of the management and upkeep of equipment to central personnel, rather than individual researchers, who can better oversee resource use.

Reducing instrument impact

Improved lab space coordination should go hand-in-hand with better use of existing laboratory equipment.

Maximising uptime and reducing energy/resource use of your instruments will lower operational costs and improve sustainability. Here are some suggestions for how to achieve this:

  • Share space in freezers, ovens, incubators and other instruments for samples and materials that can be stored or processed at the same temperature.
  • Ensure that chemical fume hood sashes are closed when not in-use to limit air conditioning requirements.
  • Turn off all lights and any instruments that do not need to be running overnight.
  • Batch rinse samples and equipment when taps are in-use, rather than leaving them running, in order to save on water and the energy it takes to produce.
  • Consider integrating water pumps that can re-use water when it is safe to do so.
  • Set temperature-controlled environments to the minimum temperature that will still preserve the integrity of the contents. For example, if every sample stored in a freezer can be kept at −70°C there is no need to keep it at −80°C.

Upgrade equipment

With facilities and equipment use being managed in a more sustainable manner, the next area to look at is whether any instruments should be upgraded. Newer models of most equipment are likely to be far more energy efficient than existing models, not to mention more accurate and able to bring added capabilities.

Assess your existing equipment portfolio in terms of performance, operating life and energy use in order to decide what would be best replaced. Also consider the payback period for any upgrade. Lower energy and resource use means lower operating costs, so investing in new instruments could provide a positive return on investment.

Use sustainable culture media

Finally, the source and production process for the cell culture media in use in your lab can also be evaluated in terms of sustainability.

Many of the more common sources of culture media are not necessarily produced in a highly sustainable manner. The most popular culture media collagen is often produced from bovine and porcine sources, and their production is energy-intensive and can result in significant carbon emissions.

Jellagen provides a sustainable alternative manufactured from jellyfish which are sourced from an area where they are considered to be harming the environment.

In this way, the collagen provided is not only sourced in a process that results in fewer emissions than alternative sources, but the local environment from where the jellyfish are collected also benefits from their removal, further increasing the sustainability of the media.

For more information on what jellyfish collagen can offer in a sustainable cell culture process, please see our recent white paper.