The considerations for building sustainable labs in pharma


DDW Editor Reece Armstrong speaks to Will Fogden, UK Development Manager, Kadans Science Partner, about sustainable efforts in pharma and the considerations industry needs to take into account when developing sustainable buildings.

RA: We’ve seen large-scale sustainability efforts from pharma. Is the lab an overlooked part of companies’ environmental work?

WF: Established pharmaceutical companies have extensive supply chains with significant environmental impact, which means they are incentivised to formulate comprehensive environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) strategies to meet sustainability standards. However, that is only a small part of the life sciences industry and generally, biotech start-ups aren’t as well-resourced to combat their emissions.

Carbon reduction in the supply chain isn’t overlooked in the industry at large; but it also can’t be solved on a siloed basis as it requires commitment and engagement from a variety of industry stakeholders. The industry gold standard is the likes of AstraZeneca, which has launched the ‘AZ Forest’, a $400m investment programme to respond to climate change and the promotion of biodiversity, but there is void in the middle that needs addressing.

Whilst most life sciences companies now understand the impact of new regulation around carbon emissions and the steps needed to mitigate them, some of the more sophisticated legislation around the indirect emissions that come from real estate require further work from the industry.

There is an opportunity for life sciences developers to work with the industry to meet the growing chronic need for lab space in a sustainable fashion. Many will lease inadequate space which was never designed for labs and is unable to meet sustainability standards. We believe that purpose-built life science laboratories can serve the needs of the tenant whilst addressing some of the sustainability concerns smaller companies are unable to tackle themselves. However, whilst the ‘sustainable lab’ infrastructure itself offers ways of quantifiably reducing carbon, many companies may still struggle when it comes to the supply chain.

RA: What are some of the key factors that contribute to labs being impactful on the environment?

WF: The scientists working in labs conduct extraordinary research every day, so as you can imagine they require extraordinary amounts or power and energy to do so.

Lab buildings use five to 10 times more energy per square foot than a standard office building and for more specialist lab environments this can increase by 30 times over. There are many factors that contribute to high energy consumption within a lab setting, such as 24/7 operation, power hungry lab equipment and the subsequent heat loads that require cooling through the building HVAC system. Labs also require high levels of water consumption due to processes which require condensers, cooling and single-pass water systems.

However, there are tactics that can be employed to mitigate against these challenges. Active lab management and smart use of autoclaves, whilst a simple fix, can often be overlooked as a way to work more sustainably. Efficient use of autoclaves can also promote the use of more reusable glassware rather than plastics and increased use of recirculating coolant will lead to reduction in overall water consumption.

Effective lab management and considered space planning also provides opportunities for shared equipment zones. Designing labs with flexible open plan workspaces, such as those at the London Innovation Centre among others, also have the added benefit of promoting interdisciplinary collaboration and innovative solutions to create efficiencies in the lab. For example, proactive inventory management allows lab users to share resources and benefit from bulk procurement, leading to less duplication and waste.

RA: What are some of the challenges of bringing sustainability to the lab?

WF: Fundamentally, safety is the first and foremost concern of any laboratory and occasionally, this doesn’t sit easily alongside sustainability. For example, 100% fresh air intake rather than a mix of fresh and recirculating air, whilst more onerous from an engineering and cost perspective reduces the management risk of things such as filter changes.

For smaller biotech companies, engineering safety concerns out of a building is expensive and often rubs up against the sustainability agenda. However, sustainability is increasingly being reviewed across all project stakeholders rather than being ‘championed’ by a few; so, this will continue to bridge the gap between design intent and operational practice in the sustainable lab of the future.

RA: How should lab developers approach designing sustainable spaces?

WF: Sustainability should form a central part of lab design rather than merely being an opportunity to tick a box. There are various work streams that contribute to sustainable lab development, and it is important the design remains a collaborative process between all parties involved.

Taking a sustainable approach to architectural design with passive measures such as building orientation, solar shading and glazing ratios is crucial to developing a sustainable purpose-built lab. An external façade which utilises recycled / low carbon material that can be procured and constructed using modern methods of construction (MMC) is another tactic that should be employed to make the lab more sustainable.

Limiting carbon emissions remains a key challenge for developers due the performance requirements of the structure of a lab building. For example, on average, the building frame accounts for 50% of embodied carbon. However, for Canary Wharf and Kadans Science Partners’ 23-storey, One North Quay, which once complete will be the largest of its kind in Europe, the team challenged the brief and managed to reduce the amount of embodied carbon by half.

There is also great scope to make labs more sustainable in the community by conducting meaningful outreach programmes with schools, colleges and workplace schemes to breakdown the “threshold fear” of entering and interacting with these types of buildings. With activated ground floors, such buildings have a real opportunity to engage with the local community and the future talent pool. Kadans is involved in several interesting initiatives including projects in Kings Cross and Manchester to provide meaningful engagement with the community.

RA: Do you think sustainability should be made a wider part of regulatory agencies’ agendas?

WF: Current building standards and emerging industry standards are moving towards having a wider building typology view to account for the unique challenges of the R&D sector. In the context of labs, we are seeing the focus on operational energy and reduced embodied carbon becoming a bigger part of building regs drivers.

Kadans is working with an industry leading consortium of consultants, regulatory bodies (CIBSE, UK GBC, BRE etc), and industry partners in the development of a Net Zero Carbon Building Standard. This looks to assess existing benchmarks and set performance guidance and targets for lab buildings so that future projects can strategically align their designs to a standardised framework.

Setting absolute performance standards across the industry is challenging because the labs we deliver have such a wide range of functions and cater to different types of science. However, Kadans is committed to working with industry partners to develop these standards and drive sustainability without constraining the functional performance needs of our labs.

DDW Volume 24 – Issue 4, Fall 2023

Will FogdenBiography:

Will Fogden is Senior Development Manager for the UK & Ireland at Kadans Science Partner. As a Chartered Planning and Development Surveyor, Fogden leads a range of R&D projects in urban clusters including Manchester and London and has significant experience in the green laboratory space.

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