The Shortest Complete List of Sustainable Actions

This list is certainly not exhaustive since scientists come up with new amazing practices to make their laboratories more sustainable every day. However, here is as much inspiration as we can give:

Reducing waste

  • Choosing providers that avoid unnecessary packaging or opt for more easily degradable solutions like paper
  • Reducing plastic waste within the laboratory can be achieved by:
  • Using alternatives such as glass or metal items for flasks, dishes, serological pipettes and weighing boards
  • Minimizing the size of consumables (especially tubes, serological pipettes, pipette tips)
  • Pouring solutions where precises volumes are not decisive (e.g., washing steps)
  • Reusing Falcon tubes, potentially after rinsing, especially for frequently used solutions
  • Reusing pipette tips, tubes where cross-contamination is not an issue
  • Precise calculation and bulk preparation of reagents and solutions
  • Conscious use of gloves
  • Making use of take-back programs for plastic items, including Styrofoam

Improving experimental conduct and design

  • Proper experimental planning can be achieved by:
    • Leveraging existing literature to avoid redundant experiments
    • Robust statistical planning (especially power analysis) help reduce sample sizes and enhance statistical validity
    • Carefully chosen experimental conditions with proper controls
    • Reviewing consumable utilization ahead of conduct (including material, size and number of consumables)
    • Preparation procedures (e.g., optimizing pipetting schemes and master-mixes to reuse tips and tubes)
    • Adopting safer and more benign alternatives for commonly used reagents in experiments (e.g., DNA staining solutions, microscopic slide mounting agents, lysing agents, or protease inhibitors)
    • Alternative experimental approaches (e.g., using Supercritical fluid chromatography (SFC) to avoid organic solvents needed in HPLC)
    • Consider potential for downstream use or regeneration (e.g., regeneration of nucleic acid extraction columns)
  • Implementing strategies and frameworks to ensure best practices (e.g., handling pipettes upright when pipetting)
  • Awareness of toxicity of reagents in use for proper handling and discarding (e.g., including closing lids to avoid evaporation)
  • Initiating collaboration with:
    • Colleagues in co-preparation of solutions, sharing of samples or co-use of machines (e.g., water baths)
    • Other groups to share equipment
    • Core facilities or partners to avoid unnecessary establishment of new methods
  • Implementing the 12 rules of Green Chemistry, including
    • Conscious solvent and reagent selection (according to safety, LCA and impact assessment, e.g., Ethanol instead of Acetonitrile)
    • Optimize procedures by using catalyzers and reducing resource-intensive processes like heating or distillation
    • Using renewable feedstock and designing products for degradation
  • Refining computational experiments by:
    • Adapting practices that reduce running times and optimize code efficiency
    • Measuring carbon footprints (and potential reductions)
    • Considering relocating computational tasks to energy-efficient data centers
    • Planning to run jobs during times of low demand
    • Implementing checkpointing strategies to streamline computational processes and reduce unnecessary energy consumption
    • Storing only essential data for regenerating large datasets, reducing energy demands and use hard drives instead of cloud-storage only
    • Avoiding using screensavers to minimize needless energy consumption
    • Selecting energy-efficient hardware especially when buying anew

Reducing paper, water and energy use


  • Transition to digital sources like electronic lab journaling and online publications
  • When printing is necessary, using recycled paper and opt for double-sided printing on previously used paper


  • Minimize water use, for example by soaking steps and mechanical cleaning
  • Consciously discern water types (tap, distilled, double distilled etc.)
  • Use only as much ice as needed


  • Regularly organizing and cleaning digital inboxes to prevent unnecessary data storage
  • Maintain a tidy system for experimental data, avoiding unnecessary duplication and keeping a safety copy securely stored on a hard drive
  • Exercise caution with AI technologies and use of search engines due to their potential high energy consumption
  • Evaluating the necessity of video in online meetings and switch to audio-only when possible to minimize data and energy usage
  • Keeping laboratory fume hood sashes shut and turn machines off when not in use (e.g., water baths)
  • Setting PCR-Holding Temperature to 12°C or higher

Changing procurement and purchasing processes

  • Planning orders carefully by:
    • Creating an internal system to track chemical inventory and consumable supplies to minimize unnecessary orders
    • Collaborating with other laboratories or facilities to collect orders
  • Choosing products consciously by:
    • Procuring items in quantities aligned with future usage
    • Emphasizing sustainable packaging practices, favoring minimal material usage and biodegradable materials where possible
    • Opting for specific shipping methods and alternatives to conventional cooling methods (e.g., when ordering polymerases without cooling or oligos dry)
    • Thoroughly evaluating feasible alternatives based on certifications, life cycle analyses, and sustainability practices
  • Choosing the optimal supplier:
    • Preferring local suppliers to reduce transportation-related emissions and dependency on global supply routes
    • Preferring certified suppliers and articles
    • Exploring take-back programs and consider second-hand purchases to enhance sustainable procurement practices

Using equipment

  • Choose instruments with reference to:
    • lifetime (e.g., photomultiplier tubes have longer lifetimes)
    • capacity (e.g., volume of sterilizers & autoclaves)
    • components (using low-boiling-point solvents in air-cooled condensers to reduce energy consumption)
  • Running equipment that
    • Minimizes reagent use (e.g., Nitrogen consumption in MS or HPLC columns with smaller inner diameter to reduce solvent consumption and waste creation)
    • Enables change to more sustainable alternatives (Hydrogen as carrier gas instead of He in GC/MS)
    • Enables internal reuse (e.g., automated recycling of the mobile phase for example after absorption of the impurities)
  • Making a conscious choice about what methodology to use (e.g., wet vs dry blotting, on site analysis, high throughput analysis, combination techniques such as LC-MS)
  • Exercising best practices (e.g., not let elution fractions from chromatography columns evaporate or using all spots on matrix array plates for MS, putting as many samples on one microscopy slide as possible)
  • Being aware of the robustness of methods (e.g., ability to reuse TLC capillaries after rinsing)
  • Reducing energy use by:
    • Developing an energy plan, i.e., when to turn on and off individual machines
    • Using strategies like multi-plugs to turn off ovens and water baths during inactivity or employing smart plugs for automated on/off cycles
    • Considering carefully how you use equipment (settings including scanning area in microscopy)
    • Modifying freezer temperatures, such as increasing from -80 to -70
    • Using covers for water baths and replace oil baths with more efficient alternatives like metal heating blocks or efficient oil pumps
    • Operating dishwashers and autoclaves only at full capacity
    • Consciously choosing levels for the A/C set-up
  • Reducing water use by:
    • Implementing low-flow aerators to conserve water
    • Using closed-cycle cooling systems and waterless liquid-cooled condensers with low-boiling-point solvents as an alternative to single-pass cooling methods

Optimizing waste treatment

  • Making sure that evaporating waste is handled properly (e.g., stored in a hood or closed container)
  • Using old jerry cans/flasks/container as waste containers (or already contaminated tubes)
  • Create a plan how to handle cooling packs, animal bedding, Styrofoam etc
  • Establishing education and indication systems (e.g., exhaustive stickers on waste bins, using and a database with necessary educational resources)
  • Repairing broken glassware and old pipettes

Changing for internal organization

  • Exploring “Smart-Lab” innovations to monitor and quantify lab processes (e.g., monitoring old freezers to control failures or assess energy consumptions)
  • Have open conversations and discussion in lab meetings
  • Reusing Labcoats
  • Freeing and optimizing use of lab-space by:
    • Only buying/installing equipment that is certainly needed
    • Promoting the use of spacing or energy saving alternatives e.g. ventilated storage cabinets instead of fume hoods for storage
    • Encouraging the removal of unused equipment

Involving institute governance

  • Creating clear guidelines, regulations or position papers
  • Creating a position for a Sustainability Manager/Green Lab Expert
  • Conscious assessment of space use and encouraging shared utilization of equipment
  • Consciously choosing 3rd parties (e.g., for waste treatment or power providers)
  • Initiating conversations with cafeteria staff to explore ways to mitigate their carbon footprint

Optimizing HVAC

  • Adjusting and decreasing air flow within laboratory spaces during periods of inactivity at night or during vacations
  • Prioritizing smart design principles when constructing new laboratories (e.g., including proper insulation, strategic window and vent placement, strategic placement and employment of emergency power systems)
  • Precisely reviewing and setting A/C levels
  • Organizing freezer placement and air conditioning systems properly to ensure efficient air circulation
  • Removing or replacing energy inefficient equipment (e.g., sucking pumps)

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