What does a sustainable Life Sciences industry look like?
Manufacturing reliable labware comes with responsibility. Corning’s Life Sciences division looks within to see how it can up Corning’s sustainability game.
What does a sustainable Life Sciences industry look like? Corning Life Sciences is on a collaborative quest to find out, says Christie McCarthy, the division’s sustainability director.
Examining the environmental impact of labware, acting responsibly along the supply chain, conserving energy and water, uplifting communities – CLS isn’t starting from scratch, of course, but everything needs scrutiny.
By the nature of the industry, most Life Science industry products are made from virgin plastic, designed for a single use for both convenience and sterility. These products are typically incinerated or landfilled after their use in labs – a problem that needs exploration.
“Designing for sustainability means looking at our innovations from conception to launch to see how we can decrease waste and energy use,” Christie said.
One example is CLS’ microcavity vessels – manufacturing them requires fewer molds, processes, and equipment, but they can grow more cell culture spheroids per gram than the incumbent product.
Packaging is getting extra scrutiny as well. In 2021, CLS’ plant in Wujiang, China, launched a project to ensure that shipping boxes come from responsibly managed forests.
The new cartons, made by a supplier certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, are stronger, yet made of light-weight paper. They are expected to save 17 tons of paper and more than $20,000 for the plant each year.
Minimizing waste and conserving natural resources is a collaborative effort, Christie says.
“Sustainability isn't something we can do in a vacuum,” Christie said. “If we try to go it alone, we'll make a small impact. But if we hold hands with external partners to help develop and drive an industry ecosystem, we can really drive change.”
One example of that collaboration is CLS' takeback program, which allows U.S.-based customers to return used Corning packaging to a partner that employs adults with disabilities. Some of the materials may be mechanically recycled into products. For example, CLS' recycled plastic may be used to create the composite wood-plastic of many decks and park benches.
When it comes to factories, seven CLS sites have achieved ENERGY STAR Challenge for Industry recognition since 2017. Since 2010, CLS has saved 71 million kWh of electricity, 5 million gallons of water, 44,000 metric tons of greenhouse gasses, and $6 million.
In Amsterdam, Netherlands, the CLS facility uses geothermal heating and cooling. Plants in Borre, France, and Warsaw, Poland, are entirely retrofitted for LED lighting. A new manufacturing plant in Ruitz, France, will be designed and constructed using sustainable building design standards. Its closeness to customers in Europe can help reduce emissions from shipping.
“The vision is to incorporate renewable energy and energy- and water-efficient strategies at all of our sites,” Christie said. “We should also make equipment choices that are efficient and have low emissions over the life of their operation.”
The division’s commitment to sustainability goes beyond its products, facilities, and business practices. Through the Corning Foundation, CLS supports nearby non-profit organizations focused on human services, culture, and education. Employees also volunteer their time with sustainably focused nonprofits at local park cleanups, farm gatherings, and Habitat for Humanity builds. CLS awarded 93 non-profits in the U.S. more than $959,000 from 2018 to 2021. Whether the partnerships are longstanding, like with the United Teen Equity Center (UTEC) and Tewksbury Public Schools in Massachusetts, or newer, like with the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association,
“The world continues to evolve, so we can't keep doing things as we did years ago," Cynthia Lin, global sustainability manager, Life Sciences, said. "We need to reflect internally and be honest about what we're doing well and where we need to improve. We must baseline our current processes, break down silos, and feel empowered to move fast.”