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Environment and Energy


Remember, the cheapest and greenest piece of equipment is one that you don’t need to buy. But how else can you reduce your impact from purchases that you do need to make?

This page has specific guidance for procuring certain common items. Several of the concepts here will also be more widely relevant.

Don't forget, before looking into buying something you could check if it's available for free on the University's online re-use platform, Warpit.



Qualities to look for:

  • Re-chargeable (even if containing cadmium)
  • NiMH (nickel metal hydride) or Lithium rechargeable batteries. Most are available in AAA, AA, C, D and 9V as well as specialist sizes.
  • Mercury (Hg)-free or reduced mercury levels
  • Cadmium (Cd)-free
  • Lead (Pb)-free
  • Zinc carbon-free and zinc chloride-free

Make use of the University’s recycling scheme for used batteries.

Box files and storage boxes

Qualities to look for:

  • Recycled or FSC card
  • Recycled plastic

Computer equipment

1. Try to purchase LED (light emitting diode) rather than TFT (Thin Film Transistor – flat screen), and TFT rather than LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) or Plasma monitors.

2. Try to purchase monitors that have the Energy Star Logo. Energy Star accredited CRT and TFT screens are available. 

3. When buying a monitor consider the energy use when on standby, as well as when it is active. Almost all manufacturers should provide a Wattage figure, but some will provide 'kWh' figures which give an idea of typical energy use over time. In general, select monitors with a lower wattage (W) and energy usage (kWh).

Correction fluid

Qualities to look for:

  • Water-based fluid
  • Recycled container


Qualities to look for:

  • FSC certification
  • High percentage of post-consumer recycling
  • Processed Chlorine Free (PCF) or Totally Chlorine Free (TCF).

Document wallets

Qualities to look for:

  • Recycled plastic
  • Recycled or FSC card

Domestic electrical equipment

1. The more efficient an appliance is, the more money you can save – and the more you help the environment. Look for the energy label rating of an item.

2. Look for the Energy Rating of domestic electrical appliances. Unsure of what the energy label means? Consider buying goods with A++ or A+ rating.

3. Consider how large the appliance needs to be. In refrigeration products, the capacity can have dramatic effects on the energy consumption. If you purchase a fridge or freezer that has a 500 litre capacity but only half fill it then you are wasting the energy it takes to cool 250 litres of space.

4. For Ultra-Low Temperature (ULT) freezers or drying cabinets, consider the Equipment Replacement Programme.


Qualities to look for:

  • Use re-usable envelopes where possible (particularly for internal mail, where ‘Recycled Internal Envelopes’, often made of recycled paper, provide multiple address boxes that can be written on and can be re-sealed multiple times, cutting down significantly on costs.
  • FSC certification
  • High percentage of post-consumer recycling
  • Processed Chlorine Free (PCF) or Totally Chlorine Free (TCF)

Erasers (rubbers)

Qualities to look for:

  • PVC free
  • Recycled content


1. Ask if the purchase is really necessary: is the furniture you require already available elsewhere in the department or University and not currently in use? The University’s WARPit system is used by departments to post details of surplus items that they would like to offer to other departments, while the University's Facilities Management team tend to keep a small stock of furniture, and Estates Management can highlight upcoming projects which are likely to be releasing furniture.

2. Consider rental of furniture for short-term requirements.

3. Purchase second-hand furniture where appropriate: some of the Approved Furniture Distributors also offer second-hand goods. (Other possible sources of second-hand/reconditioned furniture are Emmaus, or BHF on East Road and Burleigh Street).

4. Opt for furniture constructed from recycled materials: there are many recycled products available on the market from countertops and shelving, to desk screens, office chairs and even some recycled steel and aluminium products.

5. Opt for furniture that has been designed to be reconditioned at the end of its life, or which can be easily disassembled for disposal.

5. Avoid tropical hardwoods such as mahogany, choosing domestic soft woods like pine instead (these grow a lot quicker than hard woods).

6. Choose wood products that come from a sustainable source: FSC and PEFC logos can be an assurance that the product you are buying is from a sustainably managed forest and not, for example, rainforest clearance.

7. Ask if the finishes or glues used in manufacturing the product were solvent-free, formaldehyde-free and have low VOC emissions.

Think about any toxic substances that may have been used in manufacture of the furniture, especially wooden furniture, and specify environmentally-friendly alternatives e.g. water-based rather than solvent-based adhesives and lacquers. These can include wood preservatives, formaldehyde, and hydrochloroflourocarbons (HCFCs). Some foam cushions are manufactured from polyurethane foam made from HCFCs, chemicals that contribute to global warming and the destruction of the ozone layer. Look for less harmful alternatives like foams made with acetone, isoprene and even carbon dioxide.


Qualities to look for:

  • Water-based ink
  • Recycled  barrel

Kitchen equipment

Many offices have staff kitchens which can be a significant user of energy and producer of waste. There are however some simple ways to reduce the impact of these areas, for instance by:

  1. Considering the energy efficiency of kettles and water boilers. Boiling water is very energy intensive, so it's important to consider whether 'instant' hot water boilers or individual kettles are more suited to the situation - see this guide for more detail.
  2. Considering waste from kitchen consumables. Many coffee and hot drinks machines can require individually-packaged sachets or cups which can be a large source of waste which is often not recyclable, or are highly contaminated which reduces their recyclable value. When considering which type of machine to use, consider the type and recyclability of the consumables and what packaging they include, for instance preferring bulk amounts rather than individual packaged portions.
  3. Consider the use of dishwashers. These can help reduce waste by reducing the need for disposal cups and plates, however they have an energy and water impact each time they are run. Consider whether the kitchen will be used by sufficient staff to create demand for a dishwashing machine, and also opt for models which use less energy and water (for instance A+ energy-rated models).
  4. Considering energy efficiency of vending machines, particularly those which keeps consumables refrigerated. There are several suppliers who can provide vending machine models with timers or sensors which helps to switch off the vending machines or reduce their consumption when not in use.


  1. Include environmental credentials in your next tender and in your normal lab-purchasing processes. Criteria such as energy efficiency, amount of consumables required, takeback of packaging and at end of life should be considered before committing to purchasing a solution. Talk to Green Labs for assistance.
  2. Use your purchasing power. If a supplier is wasteful with its product packaging, for example, ask them if they can improve their practices, or switch supplier, letting your previous supplier know why.
  3. Don't over-order consumables such as chemicals; it's a false economy. Extended storage time uses up your valuable space and inappropriate conditions could spoil them, compromising your experiments when they are used. Also, once past their expiry date, they will need to be correctly disposed of, which can easily be three or four times more than the chemical originally cost to purchase.

See the Green Labs pages for more information on making laboratories more sustainable.

Lever-arch files

Lever-arch files are a common surplus item within the University as departments switch to digital storage. Consider adding lever-arch files to your WarpIt 'wishlist'.

Qualities to look for:

  • Recycled cardboard over plastic

Notebooks and notepads

Qualities to look for:

  • FSC certification
  • EU Ecolabel
  • High percentage of post-consumer recycling (minimum 85%)
  • Processed Chlorine Free (PCF) or Totally Chlorine Free (TCF)


To achieve the ‘white’ paper we’re all used to but without chlorine bleaching (which produces dioxins, a highly toxic group of chemicals formed when chlorine combines with chemicals naturally occurring in wood), look for:

Processed chlorine free (PCF) is manufactured without adding any chlorine or chlorine derivatives. However, PCF is used on recycled paper, so if chlorine was used in the manufacture of the original paper, it's still in the finished product - but no more than that. This is the preferred option!

Elementally chlorine free (ECF) means instead of chlorine gas, chlorine derivatives are used, which is a process that is used in many recycled papers and tissue products. This still means that chlorine is used.

Totally chlorine free (TCF) means there is no chlorine or chlorine derivatives used to make the paper, but this means the paper must come from virgin fibre and not recycled stock.

1. Consider using recycled paper wherever possible. Recent technological advances now mean that there should be no issues with recycled paper and modern printers.

2. Try to reduce the amount of paper bought that has been bleached using traditional methods. Try buying paper that has been bleached through the PCF method. Look for a high percentage of post-consumer recycling content (minimum 85%)

3. Buying notepads? There are high-quality ranges on the CUFS that are 100% recycled and made in the UK. Buying from the UK also reduces the item's environmental footprint even further.

Also: Try and print on both sides of the paper. If the document is a draft, or for information only print 2 pages per sheet. It is still completely legible at this size for most people. Can you set up printers to default to double-sided and make it departmental policy to print 2 pages per side?


Qualities to look for:

  • If you can be confident that staff will reuse them, refillable mechanical pencils are normally preferable to wooden single-use pencils.
  • Recycled barrel
  • FSC certification for wooden pencils


Qualities to look for:

  • Recycled barrel
  • Refillable rather than single-use


1. When purchasing a photocopier, look out for one with low power/ switch-off facilities that enter sleep mode when not used for a specific time period. The equipment will need time to restart again so ensure that this is cost effective for the proposed usage pattern. Also, try to make sure that the model you source has the option to change the frequency of the power-down mode. This enables you to adapt your photocopier to best suit the needs of your Department.

2. Energy is used for heating and fixing the toner. If a photocopier is left on all day and used for 20% of that time, it will account for about £350 of energy each year. Switch it off overnight and at the weekends when possible!

3. Think about renting a photocopier, which keeps your equipment as up-to-date as possible and also saves on disposal costs.

4. Try to source photocopiers which use a low melting point toner. These can save up to 40% of the energy used by reducing the warm up time, which also reduces staff waiting time because copying and printing have a faster recovery time from stand-by mode.

5. Most photocopiers have multifunctional capability. This means that as long as they have been networked by the University Computing Service they are also able to be used as a printer. In some case they are able to print double-sided and up to A3 size. The cost of printing through a multifunctional photocopier is in many cases lower than using a standard desktop printer. There are obvious financial savings to be made by sourcing a photocopier that has the multifunctional capability, and by making sure that it is utilised to its full potential.


1. Wherever possible buy multifunctional printers, especially in communal areas, as they save space and resources. Avoid desktop printers which can be more expensive to run.

2. Try to buy printers from manufacturers that have a sound environmental 'life cycle' policy.

3. Try to buy printers that have the Energy Star accreditation. Part of the Energy Star rating is a TEC (Typical Electricity Consumption) figure, which represents the typical amount of electricity a printer consumes in one week. The lower the TEC rating, the higher the energy and cost saving. Also look out for machines with quicker machine warm-up times to encourage staff to switch off overnight, and to save energy on the warm-up itself.

4. Check to see if the machine will print double-sided and save paper, toner, and money. Once in place, set the default setting to print double-sided. Some machines automatically default to double-sided printing by themselves.

5. Make use of the University’s recycling schemes to dispose of toner cartridges and printers themselves.

Printer cartridges

Qualities to look for:

  • Remanufactured cartridges
  • Recycled plastic
  • Vegetable- or soy-based ink
  • VOC-free inks
  • Recycled packaging

Check that the cartridge manufacturer offers a free 'take back' scheme. Some of the suppliers who offer these are listed on the Waste A-Z.

Refrigeration equipment (commercial and industrial)

1. Remember that the cheapest and greenest piece of equipment is one that you don’t need to buy. Can you run a lab space efficiency audit before authorising purchases, for example? Can enough space be made in existing fridges or freezers by removing out-of-date or unknown samples to avoid a new purchase?

2. Refrigeration that is operated at an unnecessarily low temperature wastes energy. For every 1°C increase in temperature, there is about a 3% energy saving. Does that new lab freezer really need to be a -80°C?

3. Unlike domestic electrical appliances, which have the A-G rating scheme, there is very little guidance available for sustainable purchasing of industrial fridges and freezers. However the Environment & Energy section have developed a list of 'approved' low energy equipment with funding available to support their increased capital cost.

4. Make sure the appliance is CFC-free.

5. Are the refrigerants environmentally friendly? (Du Pont has a very good website for this information.)

6. Where possible try to use the smallest capacity appliance that meets your requirements.

7. Make sure the appliance been insulated to a satisfactory standard.

8. Compare energy consumption of appliances before purchase – this can vary massively between equipment with similar capacity. The cost to cool one litre of space for a year varies from £0.64 to £0.39, which is a 40% difference in running costs for what is effectively the same freezer. This could mean a saving of over £150 a year in energy costs.

9. Once installed, continue to make savings. For efficient and effective peformance, ensure that refrigeration equipment has adequate space for air to circulate around all cooling coils and air vents.


1. Look out for the environmentally-friendly logo in suppliers' catalogues (for example a green tree symbol). If using the online Cambridge University Finance System (CUFS), enter ‘recycled’ or ‘eco’ with your item search terms. You might be surprised what you can find that is made of recycled content.

2. Try to encourage re-use of folders, flip charts and envelopes.

3. Invest in re-fillable pens and pencils.

4. Try to use self-adhesive notes only for their intended purpose. Staple scrap paper together to make very economical note pads!

5. Water-based correction fluids are available through our preferred suppliers and are preferable to the solvent-based options.