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Success for Sustainable Labs Initiative

Improving the sustainability of our laboratories is integral to the British Geological Survey’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy

31/03/2021
BGS Organic Geochemistry Facility
Liquid chromatography mass spectrometry taking place in the BGS Organic Geochemistry Facility. Source: BGS © UKRI.

Laboratories are significantly higher consumers of energy than offices, consuming as much as 5 times as much energy in some cases. In addition to increased energy use, labs are also often significant consumers of single use plastics such as disposable gloves, pipette tips and centrifuge tubes for example. Improving the sustainability of our laboratories is integral to the British Geological Survey’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy which is aligned with our parent organisation, UKRI’s, vision to “embed sustainability in everything we do” (UKRI Strategic Prospectus, 2018).

A recent initiative has been the adoption of the Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF) to improve the sustainable practises of our laboratories. LEAF is a green labs initiative developed by University College London to provide a framework for laboratories to improve sustainability across their buildings, energy usage and methods of working. A collaboration of 13 laboratories across BGS have recently been awarded Bronze LEAF accreditation. LEAF consists of three levels of criteria, Bronze, Silver and Gold, all of which contain actions which laboratory users can take to improve sustainability, such as reducing waste and energy use, recycling more and improving laboratory practises to operate in an increasingly sustainable way.

The laboratories that took part included eleven at our Keyworth site, including a wide range of geochemical and geological processing laboratories. The Aquifer Properties Facility and Dissolved Gases and Tracers Facility based at our Wallingford site also took part. The framework allowed us to review our current practices and make widespread long-term changes across our science facilities.

An increase in recycling on site was key in achieving the Bronze accreditation. An initiative which has been implemented includes rinsing all single use plastic, including pipette tips, centrifuge tubes and reagent bottles. Also, a glove recycling scheme has been adopted, which has let to over 15, 000 gloves being recycled annually in the Geochronology and Tracers Facility alone. There are new routines in place to share resources where possible and signage to remind users to close fume hood screens, turn off equipment and sort all waste. We now ensure our sustainable practises are imbedded into the induction of all new starters, and visitors to site.

There have been some challenges along the way as many of our laboratory facilities include specialist equipment and large infrastructure which creates limitations on what can practically be adapted to improve sustainability. Examples include our Core Scanning and Scanning Electron Microscope facilities. In cases such as this, we can try to consider the sustainable use of accessories such as IT equipment, consumables, waste streams and reducing the energy requirements for laboratory heating or cooling combined with a wider commitment to investing in green energy solutions.

This year, our next steps will be to continue to improve and move onto implementing the Silver LEAF criteria. The adoption of LEAF will help us to maintain an effective environmental management system and drive us forward towards reaching our environmental sustainability targets.

More information on the initiative can be found here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/sustainable/staff/labs/take-part-leaf

Angela Lamb
Dr Angela Lamb

Research scientist

BGS Keyworth
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Leah Crosby
Leah Crosby

Energy and environmental advisor

BGS Keyworth
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Dr Nicola Atkinson

Isotope support scientist

BGS Keyworth
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