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Beiersdorf receives Green Lab certification and continues ‘innovating with care’

R&D team celebrate receiving the My Green Lab certification

Beiersdorf’s sustainability transformation recently reached a new milestone as the company received the prestigious “My Green Lab” certification for differ­ent research units in Hamburg. The My Green Lab Certification is considered the gold standard for laboratory sustainability practices around the world and is designed to give laboratories actionable ways to improve their environmental performance through a continuous improvement process. The certifications received by Beiersdorf are a result of the R&D teams’ expertise combining innovation power and sustainability efforts and is an important step that contri­butes to the company’s CARE BEYOND SKIN Sustainability Agenda.

In this interview, Dr. Tanja Bussmann (Team Leader within the Biological Testing department), Fabian Wrieden (responsible for Beiersdorf’s chemical vocational training program) and Nathan Sirett from My Green Lab (Senior Programs Manager) share a behind-the-scenes perspective on the motivation for receiving the certification, the process and what this means for the company’s sustainability journey.

Tanja Bussmann (team leader within the biological testing department)

‘Innovating with care’ is a saying we hear a lot at Beiersdorf in the context of our CARE BEYOND SKIN Sustainability Agenda. What does this mean and how does the My Green Lab certification contribute to this?

Tanja: ‘Innovating with care’, as we say at Beiersdorf, starts in our own laboratories: In our research labs, we examine skin cells and their interaction with our ingredients. Through these studies we continuously deepen our knowledge on skin to provide innovative products that actively work with our skin. Unfortunately, the tests are often very energy-intensive and generate a lot of waste. That being said, I feel fortunate to work with a team and in a company that not only loves science, but also wants to protect our planet. Seeing how much waste was generated in our daily laboratory routine inspired us to make a positive change – we wanted to become greener and find a way to reduce this amount of consumption.

Having checked several options, we discovered My Green Lab (MGL) and their lab certification process. After a lot of hard work and many adjustments within our labs, in 2022 Beiersdorf was certified in five sections: Microbiological Category Support Lab – Gold, Biological Category Support Lab – Platinum, Scientific Pioneering Lab – Platinum, Facial Skin Biology Lab – Platinum, Teaching Lab – Green.

Nathan Sirett, My Green Lab (Senior Programs Manager)

What does the My Green Lab certification entail?

Nathan: The My Green Lab Certification provides scientists and the teams that support laboratories with actionable ways to make mean­ingful change. We are happy to see companies like Beiersdorf taking the initiative to continuously improve their ecological footprint. They have been the first cosmetics company in Europe to reach a certifi­cation. Our program consists of 5 steps: First, there is an initial base­ line assessment survey to record the current state of the labo­ratory. We then carry out an evaluation and send a feedback report that the participants can use to implement changes.

Using our recommendations as guidelines, we encourage the lab personnel to take some time (typically ~6 months) to make changes in their laboratory, enlisting the help of their organization’s sustainability team, safety, facilities, or Environ­mental Health & Safety teams (if applicable). After a number of changes are made, lab members retake the online self-assessment survey. We quantify the extent of progress in adopt­ing best practices in the lab through the responses provided to us. Subsequently, the lab receives an overall score (in percentage) and a certification level (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, or Green, where Green is the highest award you can get).

After the initial certification, the lab must re-certify within two years to maintain their certified status. By making this a continuous improvement process, we allow labs to make continual changes and gauge how well the sustainability best practices are being passed on to newer members of the lab— and consequently, to what extent sustainability has become part of the lab culture.

It sounds like a rigorous process. What are some examples of positive changes that were made in the lab?

Tanja: Following the assessment with My Green Lab, we made several concrete changes within our labs. For example, we have now increased the temperature of our ultra-low temperature freezers to a temper­ature which still ensures the necessary conditions our samples need while saving up to 30% of energy. Additionally, we found a supplier that recycles our empty bottles of cell culture media instead of bringing them to a waste incinerator.

And we started to take the stairs much more – it also helps to save a surpris­ingly high amount of energy! All of our actions add up. We will continue to work in a cross functional team on this initiative, with the aim to educate more of our labs while continuously improving our certifi­cation.

Fabian Wrieden (responsible for Beiersdorf’s chemical vocational training program)

Fabian, you were another pioneer of this project and managed to achieve the green certificate (highest level) for the training lab for the chemical lab technician apprentices. What motivated you to take on this active role and what was the process like?

Fabian: When we first heard about the MGL certification through Tanja and our apprentice sustainability workgroup, we immediately jumped on this opportunity to challenge our existing processes and establish a solid framework for our sustainability efforts. For some years now we have integrated Green Chemistry concepts into the curriculum for our future R&D Technicians, such as solvent free reactions. Green Chemistry principles also guide us in the experiments we use to teach our apprentices the required techniques. We continuously phase out experiments with large resource footprints and replace them with more sustainable options wherever we can.

Our prior efforts in Green Chemistry combined with the fact that we recently moved into our newly constructed teaching laboratory built to a very modern standard were key factors in achieving this great result on our certificate. Most importantly though, we don’t see this certification as the end goal but rather as a continuous journey towards better, more sustainable processes – all of which pay into our company’s overarching Sustainability Agenda.

What would you tell other researchers, companies and organizations with labs that are trying to become more sustainable? Any words of wisdom now that you are familiar with the certification process?

Tanja: Having one’s own behavior analyzed opens your eyes. There are a lot of improvement opportunities that do not require much effort and have an immense impact. For example, greener alternatives to daily consumables are often just three clicks away and there are now many take-back programs and similar initiatives to reduce lab waste. Every step into the right direction counts and we can achieve a lot together.

Closing remarks

Thanks very much to the project team for the in-depth, informative and inspiring interview. Looking forward to following the sustainability journey of our labs at Beiersdorf!

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Hannah Trigg

About the editor: Hannah Trigg

Hannah is a sustainability enthusiast with a passion for positive change, international collaboration and storytelling. She is responsible for communication on the topic of sustainability at Beiersdorf.