It is very commendable that the clinical diagnostics industry has grown exponentially in the last decade, having been valued at close to $56 billion in 2020. However, with this rapid growth comes a number of challenges such as the issue of climate change.
It might surprise you to know that big pharma generates over 50% more greenhouse emissions than the “carbon- infamous” automotive industry. At the same time, the healthcare sector (hospitals and clinical labs) is responsible for close to 5% of greenhouse gas emissions that are produced globally each year.
It is also interesting to note that clinical laboratories generate more greenhouse emissions per square foot than most hospitals. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), reducing 30% of lab energy is the equivalent of removing 1.3 million cars from the highway each year. A lab running at maximum efficiency offers greater sustainability.
ISO 14001 provides a framework for organizations to implement environmentally sustainable practices. In the UK, the EMAS (the eco-management and audit scheme) takes environmental sustainability a notch higher. Though voluntary, clinical laboratories stand to gain economically and reputation-wise by adopting sustainable practices.
Here are some benefits of implementing sustainable practices in your clinical laboratory:
Helps avoid government and other fines
Prevents damage to the lab’s reputation
Saves energy costs
Saves material costs
Increases efficiency and saves time
Improves resource efficiency
Reduces waste generation
6 Strategies that Clinical Labs can Employ to Achieve Sustainability:
1. Increasing Asset Efficiency
Asset management requires the effort of all clinical lab staff. This involves keeping track of all laboratory assets and ensuring that they are being utilized optimally. Lab equipment contributes significantly to energy consumption in the lab and thus should be monitored closely.
Data intelligence is needed to provide real-time insights on asset utilization. This will guide decision-making on the redeployment of underutilized lab instruments. It will also result in lower power consumption and higher throughputs. Overall, data intelligence will guide the lab in adopting the most resource-efficient strategies for better sustainability.
What to do to increase asset efficiency:
Maintain an up-to-date inventory of all laboratory assets
Use data intelligence to monitor lab asset performance
Ensure regular maintenance of lab equipment
2. Reducing Energy Consumption
Most clinical labs run their high-energy equipment even when they are not in use. This may also include electronic gadgets such as laptops, computers, and even lighting.
What to do to reduce energy consumption:
Turn off all lab equipment, electronics, and lighting that are not in use.
Perform regular maintenance of lab equipment to ensure that they are running at maximum efficiency.
Synchronize your lab schedule with other departments that share the same equipment. This will reduce energy use.
Optimize the temperature in your freezers. Avoid “over-freezing” your samples unnecessarily and therefore expending energy.
Ensure that all your equipment is energy-efficient.
3. Reducing Waste Generation
Labs generate a lot of waste. A scientist in a clinical diagnostic lab can generate up to a ton of plastic waste each year. Other wastes generated by labs include chemicals, electronic, and biological wastes.
How to reduce waste generation:
Create and implement a waste management protocol
Avoid single-use plastics
When plastics have to be used, ensure to recycle them
Adopt double-sided printing to reduce paper wastage
Recycle electronics when possible
4. Maintaining Lab Equipment
The breakdown of lab equipment can paralyze lab processes and result in losses. It also costs a lot more to repair or replace malfunctioning equipment than it is to carry out regular maintenance.
How to maintain lab equipment:
Set a regular equipment cleaning schedule
Protect all equipment from electricity surges
Defrost freezers to remove ice regularly
Repair equipment that has broken down immediately
Update equipment software regularly
Deploy a system to schedule maintenance and to receive timely alerts
5. Creating a Sustainability Culture in Your Lab
Ensure that sustainability values and practices are entrenched in your work culture. Employees should be trained on sustainable practices and regular staff evaluation should be carried out to ensure compliance.
How to create a sustainability culture:
Develop and cascade sustainability guiding principles to be followed by all employees
Let the management team lead by example
Provide the right training and tools for employees to achieve sustainability goals
6. Digitizing Lab Processes
Digitization is a tool that can be used to connect all the dots in your lab processes and thus reduce waste and drive efficiency. It brings together lab assets, equipment, and human resources to ensure that everything is working at the optimum productivity level. It is a wholesome approach to ensuring long-term sustainability.
How to “digitize” lab processes:
A clinical Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), also known as diagnostics lab management software, can be used to digitize your lab, eliminating reliance on paper for data management. A cloud-based diagnostics lab management software provides real-time data access and enables prompt decision-making on sustainability measures.
A diagnostics lab management software can be configured to schedule equipment maintenance and manage maintenance data to monitor equipment performance. Furthermore, a diagnostics lab management software can be integrated with temperature monitoring systems to monitor temperature fluctuations of lab assets that may compromise their optimal performance and increase energy consumption. A diagnostics lab management software also helps schedule and manage staff training and monitor their performance post-training, thereby enabling optimal utilization of lab assets and human resources.
Choosing a Sustainable Diagnostics Lab Management Software Solution
A diagnostics lab management software is a crucial investment for any laboratory and thus requires critical consideration. When looking at sustainable options, a cloud-based solution that provides real-time access to lab data should be a priority. A diagnostics lab management software should also be configurable to ensure that it can be adapted to meet the evolving demands of a lab. Configuration provides an opportunity for labs to achieve sustainability with ease.
There are numerous gains that come with the rapid expansion of the global clinical diagnostics market. But with the gains come several setbacks, such as the environmental footprint of this energy-intensive industry. While this may appear costly at first, implementing sustainability measures will provide competitive advantages and increase profitability for clinical diagnostics labs in the long run.