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Inside the Lab Laboratory management, Regulation and standards, Regulation and standards, Technology and innovation

Sustainability in the Laboratory

In an era marked by growing environmental concerns and an urgent need for sustainability, medical laboratories can lead the charge to create effective, lasting change in healthcare. While laboratories play a central role in patient care and contributing to scientific advancements, we are also significant consumers of resources and producers of waste, and reducing our environmental footprint can help further promote high-quality care for patients and the planet. 

To start, we must recognize that daily operations of medical laboratories mean consumption of resources and disposal of medical waste – including hazardous materials – can have significant environmental consequences. Moving toward more energy-efficient equipment, conscientious procurement of materials, and sustainable waste management would put laboratories in a prime position to reduce their environmental impact. As the hub of every hospital system, when we make positive changes to a laboratory’s processes, a ripple effect happens, and we influence the way other departments operate, not just our own. 

What’s more, as environmental regulations become increasingly stringent, adopting greener policies in the laboratory can help avoid penalties or even legal consequences, and proactively meet regulatory requirements, ultimately safeguarding a laboratory’s reputation and ensuring uninterrupted operations. Ensuring the good standing of a laboratory is paramount to patients and their care teams, setting up a culture of trust for the patient through their healthcare journey, which is often pitted with so much uncertainty. 

The laboratory has always been a leader in healthcare, and it is our duty to remain so as we shift to greener processes. Some may question whether moving toward more sustainable practices in the laboratory will hinder scientific discovery or potentially disrupt patient care. In fact, the opposite is true. Sustainability practices can enhance research and innovation in a number of ways:

  • Long-term viability: sustainable practices ensure long-term viability of laboratory operations. By reducing consumption and waste generation, laboratories can operate more efficiently and economically, which translates to a more stable and reliable environment, allowing pathologists and laboratory professionals to focus on their work rather than dealing with resource shortages or operational disruptions
  • Cost savings: sustainability measures can lead to significant cost savings in the laboratory. Energy-efficient equipment and lighting, for instance, can reduce electricity bills. Recycling and waste reduction initiatives can lower waste disposal costs. These savings can be reinvested into research and development, or the expansion of laboratory teams, aiding in continued delivery of high-quality care for patients
  • Scientific innovation: sustainability challenges can drive scientific innovation through the exploration of sustainable materials, processes, and technologies. Doors are opened for the discovery of sustainable diagnostic methods and pharmaceuticals. Laboratories that prioritize sustainability contribute directly to this innovative ecosystem

The laboratory is not exempt from the imperative of sustainability that permeates our modern world. Instead, it represents a unique intersection of scientific advancement and environmental responsibility, and its importance cannot be overstated. As pathologists and medical laboratory scientists, it is up to us to make the steps toward change that can and will create a significant shift in how a healthcare system operates. Creating more sustainable and environmentally focused processes is not only a practical necessity, it also ensures we, as leaders in healthcare, maintain our quest for knowledge and commitment to patient care, recognizing the impact we have on our environment, past, present, and future. 

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About the Author
E. Blair Holladay

CEO of the American Society for Clinical Pathology

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