Sustainability Through Innovation
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The impact human actions are having on the environment is a hot topic. Many legislations have been passed in recent years that aim to reduce pollution from industry and from our everyday lives.
Science is no exception to the rule and through its very nature is prone to generating a lot of potentially harmful waste. Consequently, there is growing pressure on labs to improve, but to achieve this you must tackle the root of the issue which starts with the suppliers.
At Agilent, they have established a Sustainability Forum with the mission to increase awareness of Agilent’s sustainability activities as well as identify new sustainability opportunities that align with the business strategies. The Forum includes participants from a broad cross-section of the company allowing them to take a collaborative approach to developing strategy and communicating successes.
We spoke to the Sustainability Forum at Agilent to learn more about what the company are doing to help their customers achieve their sustainability goals.
Q: Sustainability is a growing issue for laboratories, were there particular areas highlighted by customers where they felt sustainability could be improved?
A: Sustainable thinking is starting to transform laboratories and change the way researchers, scientists and manufacturers approach products, technologies, processes, and supply chains. Laboratories face unique sustainability challenges when you take into consideration their other key objectives such as optimizing workflow, increasing productivity while lowering costs.
In a recent global survey of laboratory managers, conducted by Agilent, 85% of laboratories reported to have sustainability goals in place, confirming sustainability is an area of focus for the majority of laboratories. With instruments often running tests 24/7, laboratories consume a lot of energy, water and can produce a large amount of waste – both non-hazardous and hazardous. In order to meet their sustainability goals, customers are looking for ways to improve or reduce laboratory outputs across all of these areas. This leads to the ultimate goal of running an efficient, clean and cost-effective laboratory.
Environmental and sustainability objectives have long been an established part of Agilent’s business practice. As a leader in sustainable thinking, Agilent recognises customer laboratory pain points, working closely with customers to meet their needs through innovation.
Q: Could you highlight some of the areas where you feel Agilent have really shone in meeting sustainability needs?
A: Agilent’s mission is to improve the human condition and we believe sustainability is an important part of meeting our mission. Our activities can be considered on three levels – how we run our own operations, how we create sustainable products and solutions, and how we enable our customers to address some of the world’s most complex challenges.
On a corporate level, Agilent operates globally with environmental responsibility while setting increasingly challenging company-wide sustainability goals.
We are making major investments to reduce the amount of power and water we consume and the waste we discard. We continue to make progress toward our goal of diverting 95% of solid waste from landfills by 2020, we have replaced traditional lighting resulting in 40% greater energy efficiency, and we beat our goal of a six percent water consumption reduction worldwide. We are also expanding our green logistics to reduce shipping and packaging.
On top of this, we continue to provide healthful and safe workspaces for our employees, develop diversity and inclusion programs and encourage employee engagement in sustainability matters including sharing knowledge, providing volunteer time off, matching charitable contributions and the adoption of sustainability initiatives such as energy reduction (switch-off), waste recycling, using paper cups etc.
Q: How did you approach the challenge of improving the sustainability of Agilent’s products?
A: Sustainability is very much a driver in our innovation processes for product development, an important part of our own mission of “improving the human condition” as well as a fundamental goal for our customers.
Product development starts with Research and Development (R&D). We begin by challenging the status quo and asking how we can create greater value for our customers. Where those conversations traditionally centered on improving performance, today’s approach includes many additional opportunities for contribution, including ease-of-use, cost-of-ownership and sustainability.
We begin now by identifying the most significant environmental aspects and impacts of Agilent’s products as part of our ISO14001 program, to meet environmental targets.
To enable customers to operate more sustainably and address complex global issues, sustainability has become an important consideration in all aspects of our product life-cycle. From the earliest stages, we integrate market trends, the voice of the customer and what we believe could be achievable in setting a new product’s sustainability goals, just as we routinely set its performance goals. The sustainability or environmental considerations continue through sourcing materials and suppliers, to end-of-life product recycling and replacement.
To highlight just a few examples, in chromatography and elemental analysis we have been able to reduce energy consumption, water consumption and the use of non-renewable materials.
In developing the industry-changing Intuvo 9000 gas chromatograph (GC), we have been able to significantly reduce power consumption and heat output to the laboratory from run-to-run; these improvements reduce energy consumption and translate into lower operating costs for our customers. Similarly, our Ultivo Triple Quadrupole LC/MS is 70% smaller than its predecessor, and correspondingly uses less energy, while taking up less bench space in the laboratory.
The Agilent 4210 MP-AES is a compact, bench-top microwave plasma-atomic emission spectrometer that is more sustainable, offers higher performance, and is safer than traditional flame Atomic Absorption instruments for multi-element analysis. Based on transformational Agilent R&D innovations it runs on air, eliminating the requirement for flammable and oxidizing gases (such as acetylene). In addition to reducing the associated operating costs and environmental impact, this also enables the MP-AES to run unattended, while at the same time improving laboratory safety – no need to plumb multiple gases into the laboratory, or manually transport and handle gas cylinders.
In addition to our instruments business, we are at the forefront of technical advances in personalized medicines with our genomics and diagnostics business, fighting cancer and other institutional diseases. We know that together with our customers we are making a tangible difference in the lives of people around the world.
Q: You recently launched an oil free pump, could you tell us more about the benefits of this innovation for the lab and the environment?
A: In analyzing feedback from customers, we were finding that the number one complaint about their experience with oil pumps during their daily mass spec operations, was the oil itself; associated oil leaks, oil changes and oil waste. The second biggest problem highlighted was the noise levels – traditionally vacuums, especially when you have more than one instrument running at the same time, can be extremely loud.
It is our job as manufacturers and innovators to address exactly these kind of pain points, taking on the challenge to produce reliable, high performing alternative options.
Our collaborative approach meant that the two divisions, Mass Spec and Vacuum Pumps, worked together on developing a new solution in vacuum technology that completely removed the need to use any oil. Special features of the new oil free scroll pumps include an isolation valve and internal pump venting system to avoid condensation in the pump channels that could affect the vacuum performance. The pump is also typically quieter than the equivalent oil pump, thanks to a better management of the pump dynamics and assembly process.
It took several years to validate the solution, testing multiple units on real Agilent GC/MS. The resulting Agilent oil-free scroll pump, offers solid benefits such as 100% oil-free operations while enabling customers to gain better uptime (no need for pump stops, oil changes and oil-refill) with reduced operation costs. The scroll pump technology is quieter than an oil roughing pump, and the difference is noticeable. Laboratories also benefit from a cleaner working space.
Q: Which areas do you think still have room for future improvements and innovations?
A: Agilent is committed to innovation over the long term. On a corporate level, there is still more we aim to achieve. We will continue to focus on sustainable energy and water reduction systems, particularly those that reduce carbon emissions. We will continue to engage with employees and raise the company-wide awareness of the importance of individual sustainability actions.
R&D is such a high priority that every year we invest at least eight cents on every dollar of revenue into R&D in our businesses and central research labs. We look beyond the evolution of our current products and platforms to create the technologies and workflows that will become the foundation for tomorrow’s successes. Sustainability contribution is an integral and multi-faceted element of our innovation focus for future product improvements.
The Agilent Sustainability Forum were speaking to Dr Karen Steward, Science Writer for Technology Networks.