On the horizon: greater sustainability in sample storage
by Erik Steinfelder
Climate change has long been a major global challenge. But now, people across the world have a new shared perspective on our collective responsibilities to each other and to the planet. The surreal lockdown situation impacting the global economy creates a unique opportunity to re-think some of the things we were doing. Consequently, we should only go back to normal if normal was good.
In sight and top of mind
In contrast to the human suffering caused by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the slowdown in travel and commerce has had a significantly positive impact on CO2 emissions and energy demand. The difference in air quality is visible in some cities. Discussions are now taking place globally to prevent emissions from reaching the same high levels previously experienced. If you are planning to expand your research facility to support vaccine development and imaging resources or to build a collection of SARS-CoV-2 positive samples, this is an ideal time to look at the broader sustainability picture. In terms of cold storage of biospecimens, there are many solutions available–they just need to be implemented.
Our engineers are inspired by the exponential impact of more efficient cold storage equipment and cleaner manufacturing processes. The Thermo Scientific TSX series ultra-low temperature freezers feature V-drive adaptive control technology, designed to minimize energy consumption without sacrificing sample security. And by using non-hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants manufactured in a facility that has achieved zero waste to landfill, more than 90% of the waste generated at our manufacturing site is diverted from landfill.
On another front, Thermo Scientific Matrix barcoded storage tubes are part of a program run by the non-profit My Green Lab to pilot an environmental assessment label for laboratory products, called an ACT label. By emphasizing accountability (A), consistency (C) and transparency (T) around manufacturing, energy, water use, packaging and end-of-life disposal, the ACT label makes it easy to compare and select products that are sustainable. If you’re setting up a new or expanded biobanking operation, combining TSX freezers and Matrix storage products can have a significant impact on energy consumption and ecological footprint.
Are we maximizing the scientific value of stored samples?
A different angle on the sustainability topic is the actual use of the sample. If unique specimens from patients are only stored and treated as too precious to touch, it is not only a waste of resources like electricity and plastics, but it is also not benefitting the patient. If future patients are no longer volunteering to consent to the use of their clinical data and specimens, biobanks and the research community have a major issue. Sustainability should be an integral part of discussions among all stakeholders (including donors, biobanks, researchers, industry and policymakers) to create a strategy where intentions, actions and results are aligned.
Seeing the world through green-colored glasses.
Achieving innovative approaches in both thinking and action requires ideas that extend beyond your own organization to support a vison that draws wider support. By working together, we can effect change in the biobanking industry and have a global impact. Thanks to a shift in perspective, this could be the start of a truly new, more sustainable normal.