Get ready for the 2024 International Freezer Challenge

Annual competition challenges scientists around the world to be more energy efficient with their labs’ cold storage

A McGill student with a white coat and protective glasses working in a chemistry lab.

The global Freezer Challenge is back, and the Office of Sustainability is eager to help McGill’s laboratories succeed.

Established in 2017, the Freezer Challenge is an annual competition that challenges scientists around the world to be more energy efficient with their labs’ cold storage. The Freezer Challenge is run in partnership by My Green Lab and the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL), two nonprofits promoting laboratory sustainability. Last year was the first time McGill participated as an institution.

“This is a chance for McGill to shine globally while contributing to a worldwide movement to reduce carbon emissions,” says Kimberly John, Sustainability Officer in the Office of Sustainability. “Last year we tested the waters and achieved several benefits. This year there is even more interest from lab users.”

Small actions pay off

Second only to fume hoods, a laboratory’s cold storage – such as refrigerators, freezers, and cold rooms – are likely its biggest category of energy consumption.

The Freezer Challenge guides participants on how to optimize their lab’s cold storage, such as removing frost buildup, cleaning their coils, and updating sample inventories. The result is not only increased energy efficiency, but also improved sample accessibility, reduced risks, and cost savings.

Labs of any size can take part, whether they have fewer than 10 members or encompass an entire department. There are award categories for Academic and Hospital/Clinical labs, as well as subcategories for small, medium, and large labs.

The Office of Sustainability will monitor and support McGill’s participating labs and affiliated research institutes, and award prizes to the top-performing team.

2023 results

Members of the Specimen Processing Laboratory with McGill President Deep Saini and Sustainability Officer Kimberly John.
Members of the Specimen Processing Laboratory with President Deep Saini and Sustainability Officer Kimberly John.

Nearly 2,000 labs participated in the 2023 International Freezer Challenge, with the top Academic prize going to the University of Alabama Birmingham.

McGill registered 16 labs, and their cumulative efforts saved $4,500, avoided 84.2 kg of CO2e emissions, and conserved an annual total of over 64,000 kWh – enough to power six Canadian homes for a year.

“[The Freezer Challenge] encouraged us to think about small actions we can take which we normally don’t prioritize,” said Shaima Alsuwaidi, a graduate student in Carl Ernst’s lab who participated in last’s year Challenge.

Last year, McGill’s top performer was the Specimen Processing Laboratory at the Centre for Innovative Medicine, part of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre. They earned a first-place prize from the Office of Sustainability, which included a $500 credit for lab equipment, a pizza party for lab members, and one year of preventative maintenance.

The Specimen Processing Laboratory was also the first lab to be certified Platinum under McGill’s Sustainable Lab Certification program.

Ready to take on the Challenge?

Registration is open now and continues until June 2024. Winners will be announced after the Challenge closes on July 1. Interested parties should do the following:

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