Setting New Standards in Lab Sustainability with ACT Label Adoption

by | Jun 3, 2024

Learn how Waters is adapting production practices and product designs to meet the growing demand for environmentally friendly laboratory instruments.

As companies increasingly adopt environmentally responsible goals and industry regulations evolve to emphasize sustainability, the demand for eco-conscious laboratory instruments is becoming more pronounced. While sustainability was once a minor consideration within the decision-making process, purchasers are displaying increasing scrutiny in this area. Criteria include not only an instrument's materials and performance but also how and where it was made and how long it will last. 

Manufacturers such as Waters Corporation are responding to this call in two significant ways. First, they are integrating sustainable practices within their own operations such as favoring renewable energy to drive manufacturing processes. They are also helping laboratories lower their carbon footprint by designing instruments that boast inherent eco-friendly features, for example, low energy consumption and compact size.

Accreditation agencies such as My Green Lab (MGL) play a vital role in this landscape. For example, MGL's ACT Environmental Impact Factor Label clearly indicates an instrument's environmental impact, helping purchasers make informed choices. "ACT stands for accountability, consistency, and transparency," explains Mark Roberts, Principal Consulting Product Manager at Waters Corporation. "The labels are divided into different areas of the product life cycle, from manufacturing through user impact to end of life, plus any innovation that has an impact on the sustainability of the products." Roberts is well-versed in the nuances of the ACT accreditation as four of Waters' products—three triple quadrupole mass spectrometers and a single quadrupole mass detector—have recently qualified for the label. We spoke with him about these instruments and their accreditations and discussed the broader landscape of sustainable instruments.

Sustainable manufacturing practices

The production of ACT-accredited instruments relies heavily on the practices adopted within the manufacturing facility. As Roberts notes, Waters' three ACT-accredited mass spectrometers are produced in a facility in Wexford, Ireland. "Some of the key areas where this manufacturing facility has provided improvements for the environment are reducing energy consumption, water consumption, and waste generation," advises Roberts, explaining that all of these initiatives have been implemented within the last five years. They include things like LED lighting upgrades and reducing the pressure in clean rooms when they're not in use for manufacture.

There have also been upgrades to condensers and reverse osmosis systems, and the facility reuses and recycles shipping pallets. "In addition, the Wexford facility has signed an agreement to use renewable energy for its electricity," says Roberts. "And there is one more major advantage of manufacturing in Wexford. It is a reasonable center point between the EU, UK, and American markets. So when we send instruments to distribution centers, the transportation impact is minimized."

Meanwhile, Waters' ACT-accredited mass detector is manufactured in a facility in Singapore. Roberts highlights that this facility reduces energy usage by switching off air conditioning when the building is not occupied and has installed low-flow water faucets. Similar to Wexford, the Singapore facility has also opted into a renewable power purchasing agreement with its utility provider.

New instruments that meet ACT accreditation

While sustainable manufacturing practices are important, consumers inevitably want to see eco-friendly features in the instruments themselves. Roberts highlights some of the features that will be of most interest to decision-makers. "One key innovation within these products is a photomultiplier detector, which is enclosed within its own glass case and kept under vacuum. That ensures it has a much longer lifetime than other types of detectors or mass spectrometers, and it doesn't typically need to be replaced during the lifetime of the instrument." Aside from improving sustainability, avoiding this costly part replacement offers an economic advantage.

"The three mass spectrometers we've had accredited are the Xevo™ TQ-S cronos (the entry-level model), the Xevo TQ-S micro (a mid-tier unit), and the Xevo TQ Absolute (a high-performance instrument)," advises Roberts. "For the Xevo TQ Absolute, one of the key requirements for the design of this product was to significantly reduce the size and weight. Obviously, this reduces the amount of material used and impacts both the manufacturing and shipping of the product. Looking at publicly available information, we can determine that this is the smallest and most energy-efficient high-performance triple quadrupole mass spectrometer on the market today. That is quite significant for our customers and also contributes toward a very favorable 'Environmental Impact Factor' (a key metric on the ACT label)."

With respect to the mid-tier product, Roberts underscores that the Xevo TQ-S micro is the smallest and most energy-efficient mid-tier triple quadrupole on the market. "An important point to note is that there are two pump options for this instrument and two corresponding labels," explains Roberts. "We did this to highlight the advantage from a sustainability angle of using the scroll pump instead of a wet pump. While it's a bit more expensive to buy the scroll pump, it gives you significant energy savings—8 kWh less per day—over the lifetime of the product."

Roberts also discusses the advantage of the recently launched ACQUITY QDa II Mass Detector. "One of the key points for this product is that it offers up to 70% energy savings relative to competitor products. That energy consumption is extremely low. It's certainly far lower than that of the tandem quadrupole mass spectrometers we discussed, and it's a much smaller product, too." Roberts adds that the benefits of low energy consumption are two-fold. Not only are you reducing the amount of electricity needed to run an instrument, but you're also generating less heat, so the laboratory air conditioning system doesn't have to work as hard.

Indeed, customer feedback on the Xevo TQ Absolute emphasizes the impact that low energy consumption can have. According to a customer interviewed for a recent sustainability eBook: "The biggest impact on laboratory setup costs was controlling the LC-MS/MS heat output and energy usage. The difference in adopting the new Xevo TQ Absolute LC-MS/MS having a lower heat output means that the required mechanical cooling systems in the LC-MS/MS laboratories had a lower specification meaning an instant build saving of around £200,000."

Market and future trends

With four ACT-accredited instruments in its product portfolio, Waters shows no sign of slowing down in adopting 'greener' practices and producing more eco-friendly products. "Going forward, we are ensuring that product sustainability will be a key consideration when designing new instruments," asserts Roberts. "We're ensuring we think longer term about how we can improve products from an environmental standpoint."

So, how important are ACT labels and similar accreditations within the general market and to individual customers? "Some companies are very aware of this," says Roberts. "For example, AstraZeneca has collaborated with My Green Lab, and for them, it's critical that they see one of these types of labels. They are at the forefront, along with some other big pharma companies. There may not be as much awareness more generally among companies, but it is definitely coming." Roberts elaborates that government tenders are released for these types of instruments and it's becoming more common for the sustainability of the product to factor as a key criterion. "That weighting is certainly evident in Europe, and it's gaining more importance in the Americas."

Roberts adds that he wouldn't be surprised if these labels become mandatory for laboratory products in the near future, probably in the EU first. "It is really important that Waters stays ahead, proactively incorporates sustainable practices, and continues to be transparent about its products."


Cover of PFAS analysis magazineThis article is featured in our June 2024 publication, Innovation and Sustainability in Modern Analysis. Find out about the latest innovations and sustainable advances in mass spectrometry, chromatography, and related techniques.

Related Content