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LEAF Promotes Greener Laboratory Practices

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The Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF) is continuously gaining traction as more and more laboratories are taking part in this initiative. Saving energy is a major concern for all, and, as fridges and freezers are known to use a large amount of power, investing in more efficient models is a key agenda for organizations striving to reduce their environmental footprint. In this article, we explore the importance of LEAF and how the choice of equipment – together with better habits – can significantly contribute to a greener and more sustainable future for laboratories.

Laboratories rely on a whole swathe of instrumentation such as fume hoods, fridges and freezers, autoclaves, incubators and analytical instruments that require constant power to operate. It is, therefore, not surprising that the average laboratory often uses ten times more energy than equivalent office spaces. However, as the world becomes increasingly more aware of the climate crisis, sustainability is becoming a top priority in all settings, with green initiatives like LEAF specifically promoting environmentally friendly lab practices. Many UK organizations and higher education institutes are now part of this movement, and the network of sustainable labs is quickly growing.

LEAF was developed by University College London to encourage laboratories to minimize their impact on the environment by using fewer plastics and less water, energy and other high-impact resources. Even the simplest of measures – such as not leaving unessential items in a fume hood, activating power-saving modes, unplugging unused benchtop equipment overnight and transitioning to LED lights – can significantly reduce energy use. Some equipment, like fridges and freezers, of course can’t be switched off, but it is still possible to reduce their energy consumption by choosing the right model in the first place and following best practices.

Different refrigeration models

Power usage is a vital first step in choosing the right equipment for a certain task, and the A–E energy rating scores are already at the top of the list of factors considered when purchasing household appliances. It is clear from comparing the different scores that energy efficiency varies considerably across the spectrum of fridge and freezer models, and even from one manufacturer to another.


At the same time, it is important to remember that solely looking at power usage can be misleading as smaller units will use less energy but offer smaller storage capacity. The energy-to-space ratio will, therefore, give a clearer perspective, which is especially important in a lab setting where every inch of space is at a premium.


There are also different modes of refrigeration to choose from, with frequency conversion compressor technology being the most energy efficient by allowing the freezer to adapt to its environment, ultimately helping to optimize the power it uses. This is especially important for ultra-low temperature freezers that operate under -80 °C and draw a particularly large amount of power.


Similarly, cryogenic storage tanks that use liquid nitrogen for cooling often need continuous top-ups to compensate for evaporation over time, but selecting models that take this into consideration reduces the overall environmental footprint.


Sustainable habits


Choosing the right refrigeration model can have a major impact on energy usage but adopting good habits can also make a real difference. Simple practices such as minimizing the time a fridge door is left open, preventing the storage of unnecessary items, and ensuring that fridges and freezers are thoroughly cleared of samples and reagents after experiments have been finished can all help to reduce power consumption. Although much of this may seem like common sense, regrettably, bad habits are easily formed and basic principles are often not consistently followed.


Nonetheless, there are numerous simple methods to incorporate into standard operational practices that promote sustainability. For instance, implementing a meticulous and structured inventory system using numbered racks can assist staff in locating samples more quickly, thereby minimizing the time doors remain open and optimizing storage space.

Reliable monitoring

Another way to reduce energy usage is to increase the set point temperature in freezers from -80 to -70 °C. While this is fine if all is well, some individuals are hesitant to go up 10 degrees because it effectively removes the emergency buffer that guards against losing precious samples if critical temperatures are reached in power outages.


This issue can be mitigated by employing rigorous temperature monitoring systems and battery back-ups that together can give users full confidence in the safety of their samples, making them more willing to embrace a higher temperature setting. These additional safety measures simultaneously ensure that temperature fluctuations can be closely monitored and managed, mitigating the potential risks associated with a power cut.


Regular maintenance


Loss of power is one circumstance that threatens the safety of samples, but it is also important not to neglect regular maintenance as it affects not only the energy use but also the reliability of fridges and freezers. Systematic checks and servicing help to keep maximum efficiency across critical components, such as compressors, which in turn reduces both energy consumption and operational costs while extending the lifetime of the equipment. It is, therefore, crucial to choose a supplier that can offer a regular maintenance scheme to keep your appliances at their best.


Don’t fix what isn’t broken


Implementing a comprehensive maintenance scheme can help labs get the most out of their equipment, extending the lifetime of the instruments. While some lab managers with a generous budget and energy targets to reach might be tempted to rush out and replace old fridges and freezers with new, more energy-efficient models, they should always take into account that this might not necessarily be the most environmentally friendly course of action. Manufacturing new instruments itself requires resources and contributes to significant carbon dioxide emissions. It is, therefore, wise to hold on to equipment that is working well until it has clearly reached the end of its efficient lifetime.



All in all, laboratories consume a significant amount of energy, with fridges and freezers accounting for a substantial portion of this. Sustainability-focused programs such as LEAF promote the adoption of energy-efficient models and practices within laboratories, and there are numerous straightforward systems and approaches that can help labs to reach their energy targets. At the same time, prioritizing maintenance and servicing is crucial as it ensures equipment operates at peak efficiency, enabling laboratories to reduce resource consumption further and progress towards a greener future.

About the author:

Richard Jaffrato is the general manager at Haier Biomedical. He 
has over 35 years of experience in the life sciences and healthcare sectors. Richard has demonstrated a remarkable track record of driving accelerated growth and fostering innovation, and is always happy to share his insights, offering valuable perspectives on the latest biomedical advancements.