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Balancing limited capital equipment budgets while working toward sustainability goals can be challenging
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How to Implement Cold Storage Sustainability Initiatives and Stay on Budget

Balancing limited capital equipment budgets while working toward sustainability goals can be challenging

Scott Masiella

Scott has extensive experience in engineering, market segmentation, and product management. He has worked at Stirling Ultracold for the last three years defining the product roadmap and working on continuous freezer improvement initiatives. He is very knowledgeable about ultralow temperature storage and uses his strong customer relationships to continue to sharpen the company’s ability to exceed customer demands. His prior experience is with several large nationally recognized manufacturing companies, such as General Electric (GE) and Thermo Fisher Scientific, where he most recently worked in the chemical analysis division as the senior global market segment manager.

Next to data centers, laboratories in the US consume more energy per square foot than any other facility. With the Biden Administration’s plan to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moving forward with phasing out the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in refrigeration by 85 percent in the next 15 years, clinical laboratories must plan to reduce their carbon footprint and energy use, including their use of high Global Warming Potential (GWP) substances. 

Yet “going green” with traditional cold storage equipment can be challenging and most high-efficiency and sustainable equipment options cost more. This article will briefly guide you on how to navigate and balance limited capital equipment budgets while meeting sustainability goals.

Energy efficiency + streamlined cold storage management = safer samples and lower costs

One of most impactful decisions that can be made in a clinical lab setting is choosing ENERGY STAR®-certified units. ENERGY STAR cold storage equipment can drive down energy use, energy costs, and operational costs such as HVAC system use. Lab managers and technicians may also not be aware that cold storage equipment requires maintenance, similar to a vehicle, to keep units running at peak performance. 

Some labs may not have the bandwidth or a large facilities maintenance department to perform regular inspections. Yet, prioritizing regular maintenance such as clearing ice, defrosting freezers, dust removal, and regular sample clean-outs will contribute greatly to the efficiency of cold storage units. 

These actions will prolong equipment lifespan, reduce energy and HVAC use, lower operating costs, and most importantly, will promote reliable cooling system operations to keep samples safe! Following the manufacturer’s user manual and implementing best practices from the My Green Lab International Laboratory Freezer Challenge will clarify the necessary maintenance schedule.

Connecting facilities management, finance, purchasing, and sustainability

Projected energy and operating cost savings that will result from choosing ENERGY STAR-certified units and systematic cold storage management can be used to justify the cost of upgrades to high-efficiency units and further fund research projects. Demonstrating these savings and benefits with facilities management, finance, purchasing, and sustainability directors will connect the dots toward understanding that embracing cold storage best practices is critical to sample integrity and reducing climate impact. 

The value of DNA, tissue, or cell samples can range from thousands to millions of dollars, so mitigating risk should be a top priority. Working together and presenting research on newer ENERGY STAR-certified units that also contain natural refrigerants, use environmentally friendly foam insulation, have flexible voltage, and have units that sometimes qualify for local utility rebates, will further substantiate the higher initial purchase price.

Small consistent steps can produce immense gains in the long run

It’s easy to talk about how climate action is needed but making the necessary changes can feel daunting. That’s why it’s key to form a multi-departmental team, create a plan with realistic goals, and not give up if an initial proposal needs to be reworked. 

Scientists and cold storage equipment suppliers know what we’re up against—the race against climate change and leaving the planet in better shape for future generations of scientists. Taking action now with small changes, such as green purchasing considerations for lab-grade freezers, will produce better return on investment, establish a culture of accountability and sustainability and keep valuable samples safe.