Our journey towards sustainability
Over the past few years, Hill Laboratories has become increasingly aware of its responsibility towards environmental sustainability. Understanding and reducing our organisational environmental footprint has now become a key focus for us.
To understand how we might improve, we first needed to measure and understand the energy and resources we consume and the waste streams we produce. To measure this effectively, we engaged a consultant to conduct an energy audit in our Hamilton laboratory, and also undertook a first review of our Environmental Footprint across the business.
An estimate of our current-state (2019 calendar year) annual carbon emissions was calculated using the Annual Carbon Emissions calculator (ACE 2019.v2) tool provided by Catalyst, Ltd. This methodology converts energy use (electricity, natural gas, transport) and waste data into an estimate of equivalent tonnes of CO2 emissions (tCO2e). We calculated that our business produces about 2 tCO2e per FTE per year, with a high-level breakdown shown in the graph below.
We communicated these findings to our staff, and then conducted a staff survey to learn more about what our team wanted us to focus our environmental efforts on. This approach allowed us to confirm two key areas for improvement, which are discussed below.
We use a lot of energy relative the footprint that our laboratories occupy, due in large part to the air handling and air conditioning requirements in our laboratories. Our energy audit gave us high-level information about how electricity was consumed, and identified a range of actions we could take to improve efficiency. For example, it recommended the replacement of our older packaged HVAC air-conditioning units, which accounted for half of our total electricity consumption. This action was completed in early 2021, and, as a result, we hope to see significant energy savings – perhaps as much as a 7.5% reduction in our overall electricity consumption.
We have also committed to a three-year energy measurement programme and purchased equipment to directly monitor the energy use of our equipment which consumes the largest amount of electricity, such as our chillers and HVAC systems. We will use this information to optimise these systems as required.
The greatest volume of materials that we receive are samples sent by clients for analyses. These are predominantly agricultural soils and plant materials, water samples, and foodstuffs, with lesser amounts of building materials and soils associated with land remediation and development. Most of this material ultimately needs to be disposed of as waste.
Packaging materials to contain and transport these samples are also significant. These include plastic and glass bottles, plastic bags (including courier bags), cardboard boxes, re-usable polystyrene boxes, and reusable plastic chilly-bins.
In terms of waste generation, our laboratory operations also use large numbers of glass and plastic containers and various other items necessary to handle and process samples, e.g. pipette tips, filter papers, and personal and protective equipment (PPE) for our staff. Many of these items are necessarily single-use, and are, therefore, a significant source of waste.
We could see there were some much better ways to be managing our waste streams to minimise environmental impacts, and so over the last two years we have made some substantial improvements. In December 2019, we began supplying plastic sampling containers to Future Post, an innovative NZ company which converts plastic waste into useful items, such as durable fence posts and other landscaping products, which are themselves 100% recyclable at the end of their expected 50+ year lifetime. Each month, Hill Laboratories now supplies Future Post with around 10,000 bottles and 10,000 bags, and many more plastic consumable items (Including our staff’s domestic flexible plastics, which we have just started collecting), enabling the diversion of more than 15 tonnes of plastic waste per annum from landfill.
The second area of significant focus for us has been around the waste samples from our agriculture testing operations. Our Hamilton laboratory receives large numbers of agricultural/horticultural soils and plant materials, which were being disposed of in dedicated skips which were then sent to land-fill. In 2020, we transitioned to separating plant sample materials, which are now picked up for local composting, and we also commissioned a trailer that allows us to transport our agricultural-soil waste to a nearby clean-fill site. These actions have significantly reduced our waste to land-fill deposits by 68 tonnes per annum.
Of course, there is still much work to do. Currently, our focus remains on developing further understanding of our waste production and how we might manage this better. We will continue to work with our clients to reduce the use of expanded polystyrene packaging, which is difficult to manage at its end-of-life, and we are about to begin investing effort into increasing glass recycling, and will begin investigating a variety of re-use opportunities in our laboratories.
We are also developing a brief client survey, to be rolled out shortly, to help us learn about what matters most to customers with respect to our sustainability efforts. Please do take a few minutes to fill this out if you are sent the link, as we are genuinely interested in your perspectives and opinions.
Successfully addressing climate change and protecting our environment needs to be a collaborative effort which everyone in our community should be committed to. It is the hope of Hill Laboratories that, by leading our industry in environmental sustainability, we will continue to make significant strides in a way that brings the most benefit to all of our stakeholders, including our clients and staff. We feel compelled to do this for the benefit of generations to come.