Future life-science workplace under scrutiny over sustainability

A report by JLL examines the pathway for life-science company offices to reach net zero, setting out the roles and responsibilities of developers and landlords as well as occupiers to achieve this goal

Reaching net-zero in any industry is always going to be a challenge, but within the life-sciences there are additional complications when it comes to reaching real-estate sustainability targets that stem from a requirement for lab-based buildings.

Balancing competing interests isn’t easy and for all life-science companies, safety has to come first within busy laboratory environments. But these additional needs should not constrain companies when it comes to tackling their carbon footprint.

A new report from JLL, titled ‘Achieving Environmental Sustainability’, sets out the responsibility of different players in the life-science real-estate game and illuminates the way forward for all parties involved. The report splits the carbon footprint of real-estate into four categories: operational carbon, embodied carbon, water usage and circular economy.

Operational carbon

Referring to the carbon produced through the day-to-day business of an organisation, tackling operational carbon can take many forms. Laboratories often require significant amounts of energy to operate on a high-level, making tackling operational carbon extra-challenging for life-sciences organisations.

JLL reports that up to 60 per cent of energy used in chemistry labs and 45 per cent in biology labs is related to ventilation. This means that buildings designed for use by life-science organisations must have effective HVAC systems and building management practices, in order to cut down on energy usage. Additionally, incorporating air-source heat pumps and incorporating other sustainable systems for heating and cooling from the design stage can have a significant impact on the overall carbon footprint of the company.

 ‘60 per cent of energy used in chemistry labs and 45 per cent in biology labs is related to ventilation…’

Overall, a combination of behaviour change initiatives on behalf of occupiers to encourage a reduction in energy usage and effective design on the part of developers will tackle operational carbon from day one.

Embodied carbon

Embodied carbon is the carbon produced and captured in the material of a building, including the extraction and transport of materials to a site and energy used in the overall build. Embodied carbon is higher for new builds which means that leaning towards retrofitting already-present structures is more sustainable and developers embracing new materials such as carbon-intensive steel can reduce their embodied carbon by up to 90 per cent. Occupiers too can encourage developers to take new approaches and adopt more sustainable building methods and materials.

‘Embracing new materials can reduce embodied carbon by up to 90 per cent…’

Water usage

Labs can use almost four times more water than standard offices, putting an onus on occupiers to develop new habits and adopt new technologies that support water-saving initiatives such as using different water baths and recirculating water used for cooling equipment or materials. Using rain-water harvesting can also support this goal.

‘Labs use almost four times more water than standard offices …’

Circular economy

Laboratories utilise an extraordinary amount of single-use plastics due to use of items like pipettes. This is not only environmentally damaging but hugely costly. Occupiers can utilise glass alternatives and not only save the environment but also save on outgoings. Equipment sharing and sharing of resources can also help cut down on waste.

Overall occupiers of life-science real estate need to work alongside developers to tackle the issue of unsustainable laboratories and to chart a path to a more environmentally conscious industry.

Read more about JLL’s recommendations for life science buildings and explore their case studies here.

Find exclusive content in the


Premium content for Global Partners, Corporate and Community Members.
The latest analysis and commentary on the future of work and workplace in five distinct themes: Research & Insights, Case Studies, Expert Interviews, Trend Publications, and Technology Guides.