When a substantial portion of a clinical lab's environmental impact is rooted in its supply chain, it becomes crucial to explore effective methods to get suppliers on board with sustainability.
The Agilent Independent Global Lab Sustainability Survey underscores the importance of this strategic partnership, with 85 percent of laboratories expecting their vendors to support them in reaching their sustainability goals.
Here are several strategies for choosing the most sustainable suppliers and working with them to develop sustainable practices:
Ensure procurement standards reflect your sustainability strategy
Clinical laboratories must adopt a cohesive approach in aligning their procurement standards with their sustainability strategy. This involves ensuring that sustainability principles are deeply integrated into supply chain management, sourcing, and procurement processes, all working toward a common environmental goal.
Key actions include the following:
- Establishing strong collaboration and communication across departments. This unified approach ensures that sustainability is a shared responsibility and is reflected in every decision-making process.
- Setting clear sustainability criteria and integrating them into supplier codes of conduct, policies, and procurement contracts. By doing so, clinical labs can ensure that their suppliers are aware of and actively contributing to the lab's sustainability objectives.
- Periodically reviewing and updating standards and requirements to reflect the lab's latest best practices in sustainable procurement.
In November 2022, AstraZeneca, GSK, Amgen, and Bristol Myers Squib all joined the My Green Lab Converge program. The program works with large pharmaceutical companies with 10+ labs undergoing certification through My Green Lab to come together and collectively request that their suppliers also undergo certification. The program aims to ensure all scientists working in the pharma supply chain understands how their decisions impact lab sustainability, with the ultimate goal of getting every supplier lab on board with sustainability practices.
Net zero commitment
Achieving net-zero carbon emissions is a central goal in many sustainability strategies. Reflecting this goal, the Agilent Independent Global Lab Sustainability Survey revealed that 74 percent of laboratories consider a company's lack of commitment to net zero as a deal-breaker for engagement. This commitment not only mirrors vendors dedication to environmental stewardship but also affects a laboratory's own carbon footprint.
Vendors are expected to establish concrete, quantifiable strategies to reduce their carbon footprint and eventually achieve net-zero emissions.
For example, at COP 26 in 2021, AstraZeneca CEO Sir Pascal Soriot launched the Health Systems Task Force alongside CEOs from AstraZeneca, GSK, Merck KGaA, Novo Nordisk, Roche, Samsung Biologics, Sanofi, Karolinska Institutet, National Health Service England, the Sustainable Healthcare Coalition, UNICEF, the University of Pavia, and the World Health Organization (WHO). Together, the members of the task force have set collective minimum climate and sustainability targets for suppliers with the aim of accelerating the delivery of net zero health care.
According to a new report from My Green Lab, these types of initiatives have begun to have a significant impact on suppliers, with great potential for rapid and effective action.
Digital technologies also play a pivotal role in this journey. Tools like digital value chain twins offer a digital simulation of the supply chain, enabling laboratories to track carbon emissions across various products and trace them back to their origins. This advanced modeling provides a detailed view of the entire supply chain, encompassing both primary suppliers and those further down the chain. Such comprehensive visibility facilitates more informed decision-making and fosters a deeper commitment to reducing carbon emissions at every level of a lab operation.
Sustainable product offerings
Choosing the right vendors also means selecting those who prioritize sustainability in their offerings. Vendors that offer products designed with eco-friendly materials and sustainable processes can help labs reduce their environmental impact.
When selecting instrumentation for clinical tests, labs can opt for vendors who provide equipment designed to minimize resource consumption. Ask suppliers for sustainability credentials of equipment, instruments, and consumables, ensuring these are valid across various operational conditions.
"Unfortunately, there have been a lot of companies coming out with green leaves next to their products; these do not adhere to industry standards," said James Connelly, CEO of My Green Lab, in a talk around sustainability in clinical labs as part of the TCL 2022 Digital Forum. "It is really important to have an independent, third-party standard."
Connelly cited the My Green Lab accountability, consistency, and transparency (ACT®) labeling program as an exemplary model. This program provides third-party verified information on the environmental impact of laboratory products, focusing on manufacturing, energy and water use, packaging, and end-of-life processes.
Sustainable packaging and waste reduction
Sustainable choices extend beyond the products themselves and encompass packaging and waste reduction. Vendors can contribute to lab sustainability by offering products with minimal packaging or using environmentally friendly packaging materials. Importantly, product and packaging redesign has the potential to not only lower carbon emissions but also reduce costs, as it often involves using fewer materials and simplifying packaging processes.
Vendors offering product take-back and recycling initiatives add significant value to sustainable lab practices. For example, Corning's brands, including Corning, Costar, Falcon, and Axygen, offer a recycling program for plastic packaging through the Corning Packaging Recycle Program. Similarly, clinical labs using Kimberly-Clark's garments and gloves in non-hazardous applications can participate in the RightCycle™ Program. Furthermore, MilliporeSigma provides the Polystyrene Cooler Return Program as another eco-friendly option.
Such programs demonstrate a commitment to the entire lifecycle of laboratory products, from production to disposal. By participating in these initiatives, clinical labs can contribute to a more sustainable and environmentally responsible industry.
Education and training
Vendors have a unique opportunity to guide and support laboratories by providing specialized educational resources and training for sustainability.
For example, vendors can offer labs targeted training on optimizing settings, such as the benefits of operating freezers at -70°C instead of the usual -80°C. This adjustment, though minor, can significantly reduce energy consumption while ensuring the quality of stored samples. Such specific guidance extends the vendor–lab relationship beyond mere transactions and encourages labs to view vendors as partners in their sustainability journey, fostering a deeper, more meaningful engagement.
In his talk, Connelly emphasized the role of collaborative learning in driving sustainability transformations: "If you have a skeptical researcher or skeptical facility teams, you can connect them to others that have implemented that change, so they can understand the process." This peer-to-peer learning model demystifies the transition and provides real-world insights into the efficacy and benefits of specific changes.
Vendors can facilitate peer-to-peer learning for sustainability by establishing online platforms like forums or social media groups where clients can ask questions and share experiences. Compiling and disseminating case studies of successful sustainability initiatives undertaken by their clients is another way to create an environment of shared learning.
Managing suppliers toward sustainability
While the ideal scenario is to select suppliers whose sustainability commitments align with your laboratory's goals, this may not always be realistic. Therefore, understanding how to manage suppliers toward sustainability goes a long way toward achieving your goals.
Here are some actionable tips:
- Maintain open lines of communication with your suppliers to share your sustainability expectations and goals.
- Create sustainability-focused supplier training materials and communications to educate vendors on your sustainability strategy.
- Monitor and report on supplier performance against sustainability benchmarks.
- Encourage suppliers to be transparent about their own sustainability efforts and practices.
- Hold meetings to share sustainability data and insights with relevant vendors.
- Encourage suppliers to attain relevant sustainability certifications, such as ISO 14001 or Fair Trade.
Finally, engage and hold your vendors accountable when they're not meeting your sustainability standards. Simultaneously, work collaboratively with them to help them recognize the benefits of investing their time and resources in meeting your sustainability program and purchasing criteria. This approach fosters a more trustworthy and productive partnership and shared commitment to sustainability.