Written by Leandro Molina

As we officially roll into Spring, Monday March 19th was yet another collaborative meeting between the Emerging Professionals group of Massachusetts.

Nathan Kingery-Gallagher took the floor and gave us contradicting evidence of the negative impact of health care on the environment; wouldn’t you presume the two industries would somehow be synergistic in achieving human wellbeing? In actual fact, far from it.

Nathan’s background reflects a well rounded professional with ample experience in the life sciences sector and most recently an Environmental Management graduate.

After the presentation, members of the EPMA are aware changes must be made in order for Biomedical research to fit into the sustainability scene. It is now clear the lab culture makes it extremely difficult to shift paradigms with the aim of achieving sustainability within healthcare. It turns out the challenge lies that the industry is highly resource intensive requiring vast amounts of energy and materials paired with a lab culture resistant to changing behaviors needed to contribute to environmental welfare. Cold rooms and freezers are expected to reach
temps below -20Celcius to -240Celcius, and lab equipment has high energy demand. Put this into perspective, office spaces occupy 42% of total square footage in the Boston area, with an approximate 30% of total Greenhouse Gas (GHG) output. Hospitals occupy 11% of total square footage and contribute 25% of total GHG’s.

A shocking statistic revealed that hospitals in MA produce an estimated 82 Million tons of biohazardous waste per year, not including waste from lab, pharma or doctors offices. Research facilities do have environmental protection however rank low on the priority list.

The energy and material waste challenges are further exacerbated due to lab culture with minimal emphasis on sustainable practices. Some specific challenges revolve around the extent of time needed to operate equipment with already high energy intensity, limited space dedicated to recycling & hazardous waste stations and the researchers habit to always leave the equipment on for a more efficient workplace.

It’s quite clear changes must be made in the three pillars of energy, material waste diversion and culture shifts, the question is if these challenges are too much of a ‘challenge’. Since the Building Energy Recording and Disclosure Ordinance started collecting data, lab space in Boston has been able to reduce its GHG contribution by 10% on average; hospitals only 5%. The challenge of materials and energy consumption can be solved through structural and behavioral change.

Nathan has recently launched Wicked Green Research, a sustainability in life sciences group with a mission to empower biomedical research and healthcare communities of Massachusetts to define and achieve their sustainability goals. The consulting service will seek to remove barriers to sustainable improvement with primary focus on energy efficiency, waste management and culture shifting.

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