The international Freezer Challenge is organised annually by My Green Lab, a non-profit organisation that stimulates the sustainability of laboratories worldwide – in healthcare and research, in government and in business. Within Amsterdam UMC, the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare (Centrum voor Durzame Zorg, CvDZ) coordinates participation in this competition, this year for the second time. Eight (lab) departments participated, three of which won prizes. The Biobank, the research facility with the most freezers, saved more than 650,000 kWh per year (the average annual energy consumption of 262 households) and receives the 'Top Biorepository Award - Clinical Award'. Honorable mentions go to the Experimental Vascular Medicine and Pathology laboratories.
First in Europe
Due to the enormous collective energy savings, Amsterdam UMC as a whole was also honoured. Winning the Top Clinical Organisation Award is quite exceptional, says Jörg Hamann, head of the Biobank. "As far as I know, this award has never been presented to a European hospital before. We, as Amsterdam UMC, account for 4.5 percent of all energy saved in this year's Freezer Challenge."
Turning up the heat
Participants had to keep records of how to make their freezers more sustainable. "These freezers are mainly used to store body material for scientific research, such as blood, urine, faeces and tissue. In the central freezer rooms alone, we currently have 300 of these freezers, which consume a huge amount of energy. You can become more sustainable in various ways. Raising the temperature from -80 to -70 degrees is an important step. The colder, the more energy is needed, and especially those last ten degrees make a big difference. Maintenance is also important: remove excess ice, know what's in your freezer, clean up what you no longer need. The smaller the volume of storage, the better," says Hamann.
Following good examples
The Freezer Challenge helps to translate individual initiatives from laboratories into concrete action for the entire sector, says Hamann. "Within the Biobank, we made the choice a year and a half ago to make our storage more sustainable. With the help of the CvDZ, we have made active policy on this, supported by the board of directors and, in my opinion, also embraced it at all levels of the organisation. We certainly want to be an example for others. The award helps to convey that." Nevertheless, there are still successes to be made internally, Hamann emphasises. "We now have 50 percent of all freezers in the hospital at -70 degrees. This has not been without substantive discussion, because of course you want to be sure that the materials are preserved in good quality. The fact is: it has not been shown anywhere that you need -80 degrees for that. Years ago, that wasn't even possible. As far as I'm concerned, we're going to go to -70 with all freezers in the coming year and we won't be buying anymore."
Looking at ourselves
The fact that the Biobank wins prizes has everything to do with the size of storage. "The total volume that a lab can save may be smaller, but the effort is equivalent," Hamann emphasises. "The point is that everyone participates within their own possibilities. It's about what we achieve together, inside and outside this hospital." After all, healthcare is facing a major challenge "The sector 'accounts' for 4 percent of total energy consumption in the Netherlands. We can easily point fingers at the heavy industry, but then we must also dare to look at ourselves. Paradoxically, as health researchers, we also have a negative impact on the environment. With joint efforts like this, we can and must do something about it," concludes Hamann.