Sustainability initiative saves enough energy to fly to Singapore 138 times

An initiative aimed at reducing the energy consumption of fridges and freezers in laboratories has seen the Pathology Department at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead save more than 60,000 KWh per year – the equivalent of flying to Singapore 138 times.

The initiative, which was part of the international Freezer Challenge, encouraged the department to review current management practices, adjust temperatures, upgrade older refrigeration units and implement more efficient practices for sample storage to make small but impactful changes in the lab.

Operations Manager of Pathology, Angus McDowell, helped lead the project and said that while the team knew they were contributing to reducing their environmental footprint, they had no idea the real difference they would make.

“We knew that cold storage is a big user of energy in the labs, some of these units can use more energy in a day than the average household, so this was a really important area to focus on in terms of sustainability and costs.,” Angus said.

“So, we started taking actions like defrosting our freezers, warming the temperatures of some of our units, focussing on general maintenance and decommissioning old units.”

“Through these simple steps we have been able to reduce our energy consumption by 60,590 KWh per year which is just over 49 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, and we are saving thousands of dollars a year in energy costs at the same time. The result has been phenomenal,” he said.

There are more than 100 fridges and freezers within the Pathology Department which are used to store samples, blood, medications, chemicals and other products at ultra-low temperatures ranging from -80C to 8C.  These units were previously responsible for up to 20% of overall energy consumption, however with changed practices, it is expected that this will significantly shift moving forward.

“This project has not only highlighted how energy intense refrigeration is but also the things we can do to make their use more sustainable.”

“In addition to the changes we have already implemented, we are now actively looking for ways to reduce the number of freezer and refrigeration units we need, improve our purchasing behaviours and improving our processes around refrigeration,” Angus said.

Adding to their success, the Pathology team were recently awarded the Top Clinical Organization Award and the Lab Award in small laboratory (<10 staff) category for the 2021 Freezer Challenge, which was participated by 222 laboratories from 17 countries around the globe.

The Pathology team, who have established a Pathology Green Labs group, are now working on projects to further improve sustainability through waste reduction, greener chemistry, consumable reduction, recycling and air conditioning reduction.

“We’re already feeling the impacts of climate change on our local communities and unfortunately this is expected to only worsen,” Angus said.

“We know now more than ever that a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is needed to protect the health and wellbeing of future generations and as an organisation committed to helping ‘children live their healthiest lives’, we are committed to doing what we can to make that happen.”