Sustainability in Sample Collection By Erik Steinfelder

Last year climate change was one of the major global challenges we were encountering. We were clapping for the firemen in Australia, the flood workers in Venice, whilst at the same time being fully aware that something needed to change long term.
The surreal lockdown situation that impacted the global economy creates a unique opportunity to re-think some of the things we were doing. Consequently we should only go back to normal, if normal was good.

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has had a significantly positive impact on the CO2 emissions and energy demand. Discussions are now taking place globally to prevent emissions reaching the same high levels previously experienced. If you are planning to expand your research facility to support vaccine development, imaging resources or build a collection of SARS-CoV-2 positive samples, there might not be a better time to look at the wider sustainability picture. Solutions are often already in place, they just need to be implemented.

Taking a more detailed look at cold storage of specimens, several initiatives have been taken to create a more sustainable approach. The Thermo Scientific™ TSX series ultra-low temperature freezers supplied locally by Labotec, features V-drive adaptive control technology, designed to minimize energy consumption without sacrificing sample security. The use of non-hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants manufactured in a facility that has achieved zero waste to landfill, means that more than 90% of the waste generated at our manufacturing site is diverted from landfill.

Thermo ScientificTM MatrixTM sample storage solution products are part of a program run by the non-profit My Green Lab, to pilot an environmental assessment label for laboratory products which is called an ACT label. By emphasizing accountability (A), consistency (C), and transparency (T) around manufacturing, energy, water use, packaging, and end-of-life disposal, the ACT label makes it easy to compare and select products that are sustainably conscience. Combining the TSX and Matrix examples in a new or expanding biobank to collect, store and manage the new SARS-CoV-2 samples can already have a significant impact on energy consumption and ecological footprint.
A different angle on the sustainability topic is the actual use of the sample. If unique specimens from patients are only stored and treated as ‘my precious’ it is not only a waste of resources like electricity or plastics, but also not benefitting the patient. If future patients are no longer volunteering to consent the use of their (clinical) data and specimens, biobanks and research in general have a major issue. The sustainability topic should be an integral part of the overall discussions between the stakeholders (these include donors, biobanks, researchers, industry and policymakers) to create a strategy where intentions, actions and results are all aligned. Thermo Fisher Scientific’s mission is to ‘make the world healthier, cleaner and safer’ and is already reporting on Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives since 2011.

Achieving new innovative approaches in both thinking and acting requires game changers. Ideas that go beyond your own organization and effect everyone involved. This could be the start of the new normal, make sure you don’t miss it.