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Responsible Innovation: Exploring Your Lab’s Sustainability Initiative
Life Sciences

Responsible Innovation: Exploring Your Lab’s Sustainability Initiative

IoT empowers life sciences companies to achieve sustainability by reducing energy consumption, minimizing waste, and conserving water while maintaining scientific integrity in labs.

Life sciences laboratories are epicenters of innovation, where ideas transcend the boundaries of conventional thinking to create life-changing medical marvels. Yet, the noble quest to improve the quality of human life can have an unfortunate byproduct - namely, planet Earth - due to the unintended environmental impacts of pharmaceutical manufacturing.  

Recognizing the impact of their industry on the planet, life sciences companies are actively investing in initiatives to combat the issue. According to a recent survey, 98% of life sciences organizations agreed their focus on sustainability continues to grow. Some of the largest companies in the pharmaceutical industry have demonstrated their commitment to going green with impressive reduction targets, like  Merck & Co., Inc. For several years, they’ve rivaled as one of the most sustainable pharma companies on Barron’s 100 Most Sustainable US Companies annual list – having successfully diverted 60% of waste from landfills and reducing water usage by 17% compared to 2015. From 2001 to 2020, another industry giant, Pfizer, has managed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emission by over 60%, plans to source 80% of electricity from renewables by 2025 and 100% by 2030. Another, Roche, has adopted greener practices and processes via paperless factories, cold-storage cooling systems free of ozone-depleting substances, reducing water and chemical use, and more. In late 2023, they were named among the top three most sustainable healthcare companies in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices for the 15th consecutive year.  

While the numbers are certainly convincing, the question remains: how can sustainability be achieved without compromising the integrity and viability of the science? By connecting people, processes, and systems leveraging devices (or “things”), the Internet of Things (IoT) automates, streamlines, and optimizes laboratory operations – empowering intelligent workflows, generating powerful insights, and delivering rich, transformative data transparency – among other core benefits through modern technology. It can augment or enhance existing business systems and processes that consume resources and generate waste.

IoT’s applications are so powerful, dynamic, and ubiquitous that it’s considered one of the most impactful technologies we’ll see before 2030, according to research by McKinsey. Forefront’s 2023 Global Life Sciences Benchmarking Report, a survey of over 200 global industry experts and senior leaders at 12 blue-chip pharma companies, highlights the top sustainability priorities as waste/recycling (78%), addressing electrical inefficiencies (68%), optimizing energy and material usage (63%), and water recovery (59%) – all of which can be realized with IoT solutions. Here are three ways IoT helps life sciences organizations achieve sustainability.

Minimize Energy Consumption Rates

The International Energy Agency expects global energy demand to increase by 37% by 2040, which would undoubtedly strain existing energy resources. Pharmaceutical processes consume an exceptional amount of energy by relying on utilities to power everything from complex HVAC systems to lab equipment to office lights for day-to-day operations. In turn, the excessive power usage translates to extreme costs - which ultimately affects the quality, quantity, and profitability of products manufactured, especially considering pharmaceutical companies are routinely expected to lower production costs while maintaining quality standards to address energy consumption. IoT reduces energy consumption by enabling life sciences companies to actively monitor and regulate intensive processes and equipment. In fact, advanced sensors and controls have the potential to reduce the energy consumption of buildings by 20-40%.

One of the biggest drivers of energy consumption in pharmaceutical environments are the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems or HVAC, which can account for between 50 and 80 percent of a lab’s total energy consumption, according to one study. IoT-enabled utility metering systems can provide real-time data on energy consumption rates, allowing facility managers to gain insights into HVAC usage patterns, peak demand periods, and anomalies which can inform strategic decisions regarding energy management, mitigation, and optimization. Taking energy management a step further are privacy-centric, IoT-enabled occupancy sensors which inform when a room is occupied and the duration of occupancy, while contributing to employee safety and comfort . IoT occupancy monitoring data can be leveraged to institute conservation protocols, such as running HVAC units only when necessary – reducing consumption and respective costs. In fact, past studies have shown that occupant-based controls can bring about reductions in lighting energy consumption by about 30% and HVAC energy consumption by about 20% .

Ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezers are another example of energy-intensive equipment in laboratories. With a ULT set at -80°C, labs consume as much energy as a house in a single day. A simple yet effective means of reducing this energy consumption involves increasing ULT temperatures by 10°, which can result in an approximately 30% reduction – while prolonging the life of the freezer. Despite these benefits and the minimal differences in how quickly freezers at -70°C and -80°C reach critical temperatures, laboratories are often hesitant to increase the setpoint due to concerns over an aging population of ULTs, reduced safety margins in the event of power outages, mechanical issues, or other circumstances that lead to temperature fluctuations. Newer units, however, are considerably more energy efficient.  

With IoT enabled temperature monitoring, labs gain remote, continuous visibility into ULT temperatures and staff can receive real-time alerts should temperatures approach critical thresholds, allowing for immediate corrective action. This mitigates the need for extra buffer time and provides researchers the confidence they need to increase the setpoint. What’s more, monitoring the number of times refrigerator or freezer doors are opened helps to identify and relocate or retire units that are less utilized - reducing the number of fridges and freezers in laboratories, elevating sustainability, and saving on maintenance costs.  

Additionally, with Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS – more on this later), scientists can reduce the frequency and duration at which ULT doors are opened by enabling them to find what they need where and when they need it with real-time location data. Contrarily, without RTLS, they may be forced to open several ULT freezers – keeping doors open while skimming through contents to search for what they need.  

Digging deeper, another high energy demand stems from running and maintaining specialized equipment, such as fume hoods and biosafety cabinets, and powering cleanroom infrastructure. That said, the IoT data generated from power monitoring and presence detection can be leveraged to identify instances where equipment may have been left on after it was last used. As a result, conservation protocols can be implemented, such as ensuring assets are properly shut down after durations of inactivity or simply closing the sash. These small acts help to uphold critical air quality requirements conducive to optimal research environments while substantially reducing excessive consumption rates and related costs.  

Promote Resource Availability and Reduce Waste  

IoT offers a multi-pronged approach to resource availability and waste reduction through RTLS, an automated inventory and equipment tracking solution. By enabling real-time tracking of high-value equipment and assets, RTLS helps reduce major expenditures associated with replacing or repurchasing of supplies. This not only saves the environment, but also increases asset utilization by providing visibility into asset quantities and making it simple and efficient for researchers to locate assets when needed. This is a huge benefit considering the average asset utilization in pharma, measured as overall equipment efficiency (OEE), is 35 percent, with one of the largest contributing factors for this underutilization due to poor equipment management practices.

Further, with the introduction of real-time location data, retired, obsolete, or decommissioned lab assets can be found quickly to determine the removal, recycling, or repurposing of said assets – reducing the amount of equipment bound for landfills. RTLS also optimizes routine maintenance and calibration schedules, which reduces the carbon footprint of life sciences companies by eliminating the need for repeated on-site visits by technicians.

Moreover, by automatically tracking shelf lives and expiry dates, RTLS helps streamline and improve consumables management while ensuring the likelihood that they’ll be used prior to their expiration. As a result, needless repurchasing of more consumables can be avoided - minimizing waste, maximizing utilization rates, and generating ROI from said supplies.  

Reduce Water Consumption Rates

Another means of achieving greener practices is the reduction of water consumption, which in the pharmaceutical sector currently accounts for almost one quarter (23%) of global water usage. Laboratories use an estimated four times more water than office buildings. Yet, conserving water usage may seem like an obstacle for life sciences operations, where sterilization processes, like autoclaves, for example, can require up to 60 gallons of water per cycle, rising to 90 gallons for autoclaves that are ten years or older.  

While research, development, manufacturing, and cleaning procedures necessitate unavoidable water usage, labs can minimize their consumption rates with an intelligent IoT leak detection solution – which, according to the EPA, can be the most significant source of water waste within a facility – with some 45 million cubic meters of water lost daily due to leaks and pipe bursts—adding up to a value of over $3 billion per year.

Water leak detection systems empower facility managers to monitor inconspicuous, low-traffic areas like boiler rooms, utility closets, or storage annexes, enabling fast responsiveness where water leaks often go unnoticed. Sensors with sleek, dynamic form factors and customizable mounting options are ideal for tight, compact spaces (e.g., beneath water pipes in ceilings) while offering unobtrusive, discrete leak detection appropriate for high traffic spaces like laboratories, cafeterias, and common areas. Flooding caused by leaks causes water damage to facilities, equipment, and research, while compromising the health and safety of staff, making leak detection solutions essential to preserve assets, ensure business continuity and disaster preparedness, and reduce waste. According to studies, early warning systems like leak detection can provide a more than tenfold return on investment and can significantly reduce disaster risk.  

Smarter, Greener Labs Start Here

By minimizing the impact of pharmaceutical manufacturing, resource consumption, and environmental waste, laboratories can achieve sustainability while adopting smarter, greener processes for a sustainable future. Contact MachineQ today to get started.  

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