How the University of Bristol became the world’s first to achieve 100% Green Lab certification

Laboratories have a huge carbon footprint. Here’s how lab policies can back your sustainability agenda

Universities are hubs for research of all varieties but that very research could be costing the environment.

Laboratories have at least five times more environmental impact compared to office spaces, and the University of Bristol’s laboratories account for 40% of energy consumption, despite only occupying 6% of the university’s space. To reduce the environmental impact of STEM laboratories, the University of Bristol launched the Laboratory Efficiency Action Framework (LEAF) programme.

This innovative Green Lab certification tool was developed by Martin Farley at University College London (UCL) to improve the sustainability and efficiency of laboratories. Both Martin and I are founding members of the Laboratory Efficiency Action Network (LEAN), a group for sustainability practitioners, lab users and academics working to improve lab efficiency and sustainability in UK higher education. My close collaboration with UCL and LEAN has allowed the University of Bristol to effectively roll-out LEAF and reap its environmental benefits.

The university is very proud to announce that it has now achieved its goal of institutional Green Lab certification and has certified 100% of its STEM laboratories. In total, 990 lab spaces were certified which covers an area of approximately 37,000m².

The University of Bristol has committed to net-zero by 2030

We were the first university in the world to achieve 100% Green Lab certification. It has been no easy endeavour, but we are delighted by this accomplishment.

Shifting to a sustainable mindset will promote more sustainable practices

Following the climate emergency declaration in 2019, sustainability has been at the forefront of the university’s agenda. Committing to institutional Green Lab certification happened as a result of our climate emergency declaration and aligns with our departmental climate action plans. LEAF plays an important role in supporting the university’s commitment to net-zero by 2030 by reducing carbon emissions associated with laboratory-based activities.

Our strong technical leadership and structure has enabled us to adopt a systematic and thorough approach to institutional certification. Our achievement would not have been possible without close collaboration with technical staff and lab users.

Repeating experiments unnecessarily costs valuable resources

Beyond reducing the environmental impact of laboratories, the LEAF criteria also aim to improve research quality and address the reproducibility crisis. Poor experimental design and repeating experiments unnecessarily can represent a huge misuse of time and resources.

The research-quality criteria within LEAF promote research that is more rigorous, thoughtful, and dependable, and includes concepts such as centrally shared protocols, equipment calibration and forums for discussing negative results. Improving research quality has the potential to improve reproducibility and replicability as well as environmental sustainability.

There are clear environmental and financial benefits in choosing to be more sustainable in laboratories. Adopting more sustainable practices can fundamentally change institutions to become more environmentally friendly and we think our success with LEAF is a great example.

We are in the midst of a climate emergency, so sustainability has never been more important or prominent than it is now. Having said this, we all have the power as individuals to make kinder and greener choices for the planet – whether that be inside or outside the lab.

LEAF-approved research is more rigorous and dependable

The journey towards institutional Green Lab certification has reminded us how sustainability-minded the university’s STEM community is and we are incredibly excited for more sustainable science and future Green Labs plans.

Shifting to a sustainable mindset will promote more sustainable practices. Embracing sustainable initiatives is necessary to protect the environment.

There are clear environmental and financial benefits in choosing to be more sustainable in laboratories

A Green Lab certification, such as LEAF, is one way to implement sustainable decisions in labs and ensure that research does not cost the Earth. It is our hope that research councils and funding bodies will embrace initiatives such as LEAF to embed environmental sustainability within their grant-funding processes.

Anna Lewis is sustainable science manager at the University of Bristol.

Find out more about LEAF and Green Lab certification.

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