Agilent Talks Sustainable Labs and Holistic Approaches

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By Matthew Deinhardt, ACS Green Chemistry Institute

Agilent Technologies shares how they are leading the way in sustainable supply chains and instrument production from a holistic approach.

Agilent, a 2021 Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference Gold Sponsor, provides analytical instruments, software, and services for laboratory workflow, from start to finish. The company focuses its services and products to meet the needs of six key markets: food, environmental and forensics, pharmaceutical, diagnostics, chemical and energy, and research. I recently had a chance to interview Agilent’s Michael Frank, Ph.D., Associate Vice President of Global Marketing within the Liquid Phase Separations Division, to discuss how Agilent is improving and “greening” their processes for a more sustainable ecosystem.

After obtaining his doctoral degree in organic synthesis from the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Frank started his career working in a small biotech startup before he took a role in pharmaceutical marketing at Agilent 17 years ago. At that time, Agilent had recently spun off from Hewlett-Packard, so Frank has been with Agilent pretty much since the beginning. “The benefit of working at a company like Agilent that takes good care of their employees,” says Frank, “is that there is very low turnover and many employees have stayed through their entire career.”

Speaking with Frank, you can feel his passion for sustainability and how he sees his position at Agilent as an opportunity to make a real difference in the world. His team, mainly working out of Waldbronn near Karlsruhe, Germany, and interacting with Agilent’s hubs across the globe, is responsible for all the high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) systems and dissolution testing systems. Frank and his team help define what should be incorporated into a product to bring it to market, working with the marketing and communications teams to bring products to life with designs and graphics, while ensuring the product's “cradle to grave” net impact is minimized.

Frank’s team also works to improve existing products, planning for the “next generation” of a product, which typically includes more specifications and better performance. Through over 80 customer site visits a year, the team works with customers on product engineering specs to create a roadmap to meet new performance needs that may be driven by new regulations, for example. Frank hammers home that it is the role of the product manager to understand what is required for product development and R&D, whether that be sustainability, take-back programs, or an exchange of ideas; product managers are essentially the “advocates for the customer”.

ACT.pngFrank takes pride in Agilent’s high ratings for outstanding sustainability initiatives received from highly regarded institutions such as Dow Jones and Barron’s. But Frank also notes that while Agilent does a lot to be sustainable, it is not easy to quantify and showcase these efforts to the public. This recently changed when Agilent became a corporate sponsor of My Green Lab (MGL). MGL—a non-profit organization based out of San Diego, California—introduced the ACT (Accountability, Consistency, and Transparency) Environmental Impact Factor Label to audit and grade laboratory products. MGL works with manufacturers to showcase their sustainability successes and improve the sustainability features of their products. MGL looks at the analytical lab from which the product starts its journey, analyzes the types of materials used to make the products, takes into account the energy consumption and conservation at production sites, the energy costs of transport, and even the effort to recycle the product at the end of life.

Agilent engaged MGL to audit selected Agilent products beginning with the Gas Chromatography and Liquid Chromatography instruments, and now continuing on with select mass spectrometry products. Once an audit is complete, the ACT label is published at the My Green Lab ACT-Label database and on the instrument’s web page (see Figure 1).

Frank emphasizes that working with MGL, especially with their level of transparency, allows for customers to see changes in products’ environmental impact from beginning to end. The benefit of publishing these audit results is that it keeps Agilent accountable to itself and its customers, and also helps encourage other companies to match the same level of transparency, which in the end should aid in helping protect the planet.

Another new way of thinking from cradle to grave, explains Frank, is to proactively include sustainability goals into new project plans as they are being developed, to balance being as sustainable as possible, while also meeting customer goals for output efficiency. While a company needs to produce competitive products, knowing what is being put into the products that will help reduce their footprint from the start saves a lot of time and energy later.

Agilent has been reporting on their environmental footprint for an impressive 21 years in their annual Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reports. Many years ago, Agilent started reducing energy consumption at many sites around the globe by introducing solar power and updating lighting. Frank reminds the reader that something as simple as changing all your lighting to LED lights can have a major impact when enacted across the globe. Packaging is another area in which manufacturers can reduce waste by working with more recyclable or reclaimed materials, or by making the packaging process itself less wasteful. Exploring the shipment of products by sea instead of air is another way Agilent is looking to reduce their footprint, as naval shipments take a lot less energy per product to move. A major positive, as Frank sees it, is customer demand for Agilent to use renewable energy, and the pressure from Agilent on its suppliers creates an important ripple effect for decreasing the carbon footprint throughout the supply chain.

I asked Frank what key takeaways our Nexus readers should be aware of, and he broke it down to the following:           

  1. There are new methods and systems for saving energy and reducing waste already out there (see Figure 2). Adoption of these technologies can be slow—especially in heavily regulated industries such as the pharmaceutical industry—but the sooner companies can transition, it will be better in the long term for the planet and for sustainability efforts.
  2. This one sounds simple but create and follow basic rules for your teams and labs. Turning off lab lights and instruments when not in use whenever possible adds up to energy saved over time. If everyone is more attentive it can affect the larger footprint for the planet.
  3. Consider audits such as MGL’s Green Lab Certification to hold yourself accountable for the environmental footprint of your lab. This challenges customers and other labs to hold themselves accountable as well.
  4. Make it a practice to only use certified instruments that are environmentally friendly when available (make it a part of your institution’s request for quotes on new instruments).

Frank is proud of Agilent’s achievements in creating robust instruments and its reputation for its instruments having fewer compounded costs of money and energy. So next time you wonder how energy efficient your laboratory instruments are, remember, it’s not just energy efficiency in use—it’s the bigger picture that counts. We must think holistically to reduce the greater energy footprint!


Figure 2: Energy Consumption of four InfinityLab LC systems during routine operation with typical method parameters suitable for each system. The high-end 1290 Infinity II LC UHPLC system at the right has the lowest per sample energy consumption and thus, would be the most environmentally-friendly choice. The fifth column represents a high-throughput (HT) scenario for the Agilent 1290 Infinity II LC. All detailed in Agilent’s application note.