Applying for LEAF accreditation for the ESI wet labs has been an interesting journey. It started in 2019 when Daniela Farina (then ESI Lab Manager) and I really started looking into lab sustainability; we wanted to improve our processes and reduce our environmental impact, so we looked for inspiration and found LEAF – thank you Martin Farley (LEAF founder)! We started off not knowing much about the sustainable options out there, or where to make the most impact, but LEAF is very helpful in highlighting areas where improvement is possible and giving guidance on how to reduce the negative impact of lab research. So much work has gone into LEAF and it really shows in the detailed guidance provided to applicants and the calculators that use your baseline costs and carbon emissions to see the financial and carbon impact of the changes you have implemented in your lab.
We submitted our first application in 2020, via a detailed spreadsheet where we logged how we fulfilled the criteria for bronze and silver. We achieved silver and were proud of this but knew we wanted to push forward to gold in 2021. Applications for LEAF accreditation have now been streamlined into an online portal, so it was even easier to apply this time around. The ESI labs have looked more into best practice for ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezer maintenance and we have massively reduced the energy consumption of these essential pieces of equipment by collaborating with our researchers to bring the temperature up from -80°C to -70°C on as many as of them as feasible. We now have all but one of our ULT freezers running at -70 and our back up ULT freezer is now running at -60°C! We’ve also worked on fume hood best practice; removing any stray items that were being stored in hoods, so we can turn off the fan when they aren’t being used – more energy saved!
I’m so pleased that lab sustainability is a much more talked about topic now that we have a suite of sustainability initiatives on the go. Big thanks go to Daniela Farina and the lab sustainability gurus she has invited to deliver online workshops/presentations to get the message out there and show us what can be done to reduce lab research’s carbon footprint. The University now has an ‘Exeter Sustainable Labs’ Teams group, where best practice, new sustainability signage and top tips for sustainable lab consumables or processes are shared. It's great for finding out what others in the University are doing in their labs to be more sustainable.
Jenny Lord, ESI Lab Technician
When I was introduced to the LEAF accreditation process through a departmental sustainability meeting, I was very impressed by the resources, training, and the level of support provided. I have been trying to make small changes within our labs for several years, however the time it took for individual research and the creating of new lab protocols and signage meant that even the smallest change took a lot of effort. Now with access to all of the information, groups within and outside our department sharing resources and templates, as well as regular seminars and training sessions, the barriers to making a lot of these changes have been lifted.
Working in a teaching laboratory, I'm aware that I have an easier job than most lab technicians in instigating change as I don't have to negotiate the needs of dozens of lab groups. This has meant in our first year (2021) we have been able to acheive LEAF Silver accreditation and we are on track to apply for Gold by the end of the 2021/2022 academic year. Having these systems in place before the research labs in the deparmtent allows us to prove that they work here and make it easier for my colleagues to get their PIs and other lab users on board. Already I have been told that several Masters and PhD students who assist teaching within my labs have taken our efforts on board and are now seeking to implement them within their research groups, so we are able to act as a staging ground for a more grass-roots approach to sustainability within the department. Hopefully, with effort from both the lab managers and junior members of the research groups accross the department we will be able to progress quickly towards Silver and Gold across the board.
Cameron Clark, Assistant Lab Manager for the Geoffrey Pope Teaching Labs
The MRC Centre for Medical Mycology is a large modern laboratory space in the Geoffrey Pope building. Our Bronze application was submitted in May 2021 and during the summer we consulted the LEAF framework while revising our core standard operating procures and general lab guidance. We were happily awarded Silver LEAF status in October 2021.
The MRC CMM Laboratory operations work on a communal approach. The shared use of equipment, communal items and regents means that our labs work in an efficient manner. Equipment usage is managed via the Clustermarket platform and commonly agreed consumable are brought in bulk. This communal ethos alongside a supportive, collaborative environment means that recourses are always shared and any concerns can be addressed in a positive way.
The MRC CMM had 63 lab users at the time of our Silver submission. With such a large number on occupants it is important to make sure that sustainable practices are highlighted during the induction schedule. All of this information is assessable to MRC CMM members and can be referred to when needed via the use of SharePoint sites and poster memos in key lab locations.
We know that research laboratories are responsible for the generating around 2% of plastic waste worldwide. MRC CMM have minimised this in places by choosing multiuse glassware items, however plastic cannot always be substituted. Therefore CMM have put effort into their sustainable practices to try and offset this impact, we are also mindful when selecting our suppliers making sure that their core values match ours.
I highly recommend the LEAF workshops, from each session I have been able to pick up on an idea that can give you a quick win in the laboratory. These small changes really add up and can be used as examples to complete the LEAF criteria. The LEAF framework enhances Good Laboratory Practice (GLP), these together are a good starting point for organising any laboratory, action planning against failures, reduce carbon emissions and support quality research.
Sara Honey, Technical Services Manager, MRC Centre for Medical Mycology
Poor sustainability practices in laboratory spaces have been an ongoing issue for us and finding the time and resources to tackle it has often felt daunting. When LEAF was introduced and Technical Services set themselves the goal of getting every lab accredited, we were very excited. The Teams page, resources, webinars and general advice from colleagues provided a wealth of ideas to kick start changes towards a more sustainable set of labs. We also received some very encouraging responses from our suppliers about their sustainability projects based around take-back schemes and improving packaging which has helped us take a further step forward.
The EMS labs were quickly able to achieve Bronze by increasing our signage and updating our induction process to include sustainability. With a few more changes and some much-appreciated engagement from our researchers we got our Silver award. We are constantly taking small steps to reduce our carbon footprint and waste production from turning unused equipment off to changing ULT freezer temperatures to recycling gel packs. We hope that LEAF is just the start of a future where we always work with sustainability on our mind.
Next stop Gold!
Dr Annie Knight, IBCS Assistant Laboratory Manager & Chantelle Davies, Assistant Laboratory Manager
My journey with LEAF started with helping many of the Physics and Engineering research labs gain the first level of LEAF accreditation: bronze. Most of the bronze criteria are part of standard good lab practice principles, such as labelling samples and sharing equipment.
In reality, Physics and Engineering labs typically produce little waste and require less energy compared to many wet labs. This meant that the LEAF changes were quite straightforward to implement. Although the changes I introduced to each lab were not extensive, applying them in around 50 rooms across two buildings made a meaningful contribution overall. It was interesting to meet with a wide variety of research groups and discuss how the LEAF criteria could be implemented in their unique working spaces.
LEAF has paved the way to a cultural shift and highlighted the value of sharing resources and communal working, but the benefits of LEAF are not limited to sustainability. Sharing equipment and chemicals can also lower costs and the action of calibrating our measuring equipment increases confidence in results and improves the quality of our research overall. Good maintenance of freezers and adequate breakdown procedures help protect against sample loss, and I have helped labs with defrosting and cold storage inspections. I also ordered timer switches for labs, which can be used to plan out work and, in some cases, minimise fire risk, as well as saving energy.
I attended the LEAF seminars and workshops that were run by guest speakers on topics such as Green Chemistry and reducing lab plastic usage. These have provided me with some great ideas and food for thought. I am hoping to use these, along with everything else I have learned so far, to obtain silver LEAF accreditation for the Geoffrey Pope labs I help to manage in my new role.
Jade Furmston, Assistant Laboratory Manager Geoffrey Pope