On December 5, My Green Lab—a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainability in science—released a report that examined carbon emissions in the laboratory and biotech industries. Clinical laboratory recruiting teams may want to read up on these findings if they seek to attract younger workers.
While carbon emissions may not seem relevant to recruiting medical laboratory scientists, at least a subset of Generation Z workers look more favorably on companies that take a stand on social issues. In a competitive hiring environment marked by a shortage of bench staff, your clinical lab’s efforts to improve its carbon footprint may just be what puts you ahead.
To be fair, Gen Z (people who were born roughly from 1997 through 2012) does share similar concerns with job applicants from other generations, including salary and career growth opportunities, says Radina Walsh, an international HR specialist who runs Vox Advisory in Dublin, Ireland. But Generation Z also stands apart from its predecessors.
“Gen Z is much more focused on social and political issues than the previous generations,” says Walsh. “Partially, this is due to the unlimited access to social media and the speed of information—trending topics on platforms like TikTok or Instagram, for example, reach millions. It is a fact that the younger population will ask questions on [a job] interview related to policies, social responsibility, and culture, which could potentially lead to a decision to join an organization that is openly committed to equity, belonging, and inclusion.”
Carbon footprints explored by new report
Key Findings from My Green Lab's 2023 Report on Carbon Emissions in Biotech and Pharma:
|While the largest companies by revenue have established zero carbon goals, 90 percent of the public companies analyzed do not have climate commitments that tie in with efforts to ensure that average global temperature does not exceed that of preindustrial times by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
|The total carbon impact of the biotech and pharma industry has continued to increase annually, from 3.9 percent in 2021 to 5 percent in 2022.
|Scope 3 emissions are 4.6 times greater than Scope 1 and 2 combined, with most Scope 3 emissions coming from purchased goods and services.
|The largest companies by revenue are making rapid progress in adopting the UN Race to Zero.
Formally titled, “The Carbon Impact of Biotech and Pharma: Collective Action Accelerating Progress to the UN Race to Zero,” the My Green Lab report examines carbon emissions from hundreds of public and private companies in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, including clinical labs. (See the sidebar for a brief rundown of My Green Lab’s findings.)
According to the report, “the global biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry […] plays a crucial role in advancing medical and technical innovations.” However, it emphasizes that the industry also has a significant carbon footprint: “There are likely millions of laboratories in the world, consuming up to ten times the energy and four times the water of a typical office space.”
The report drew those statistics from a 2008 paper by the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
A portion of the My Green Lab study focuses on efforts to reduce Scope 3 carbon emissions, which occur downstream or upstream from a lab’s operations. In contrast, Scope 1 emissions come directly from lab operations, and Scope 2 emissions occur from energy purchased by a laboratory.
“Decarbonizing Scope 3 emissions will require companies to engage their customers and suppliers to reduce their emissions through energy efficiency, waste reduction, and resource efficiency, while encouraging the purchase of renewable energy and/or carbon offsets,” the document noted.
To help achieve those objectives, labs would need to negotiate with supply chain partners to take actions such as using more renewable energy or switching transportation fleets to electric vehicles, according to the United Nations’s Race to Zero campaign, which aims to halve global emissions by 2030.
Taking steps toward greener labs may garner attention from Generation Z. According to Race to Zero, “The demand for environmentally sustainable products is increasing among consumers, especially with the younger generations, with 73 percent of Gen Z consumers willing to spend more for sustainable products.”
With social causes, Gen Z wants action
Weaving these efforts into recruitment strategies for younger workers requires an understanding of what steps an organization has taken to combat carbon emissions and then clearly spelling out those endeavors for job candidates.
“There are a number of activities related to sustainability and efforts to reduce carbon footprints,” says Walsh. “Companies are investing in planting or adopting trees, supporting alternative means of transport, and providing stipends for electric vehicles, for example.”
However, Gen Z candidates will see through superficial proclamations rather than action, she adds. They will ask about buy-in from a lab’s decision-makers.
“Such [sustainability] projects can only work if they are truly embedded in the culture and values of the organization, they are promoted on a regular basis, and are adopted from the C-level executives,” she says. “Otherwise, it can serve as a good PR technique for a short-term attraction of talent, and that would not be sustainable over time.”
Walsh also points out that emission reductions alone won’t convince job candidates to join one clinical lab over another, but reductions can be part of a broader approach.
“In general, there is a steady decline in the desire for STEM-related career paths,” she says. “It could be that they are not perceived as lucrative as an opportunity in the tech space, however, there are other elements that need to be taken into consideration when attracting diverse talent.”
For example, beyond an employer being involved in societal concerns, Gen Z candidates may also view a laboratory’s social media presence or well-defined career paths as appealing, she adds.