The Green Impact 'Labs tab' was introduced in 2011 following the learnings of the 'S-Labs' group who specialise in investigating and managing issues relating to sustainable labs. Since then, staff awareness and engagement has risen among labs researchers and technicians, creating the demand for a new and improved labs tab to meet the breadth of equipment and challenges they currently face. In 2015 the 'Labs Efficiency Action Network' (LEAN) began to identify potential improvements; and led by Anna Lewis (Sustainable Labs Officer, University of Bristol), Tytus Murphy (Sustainable Projects Officer, Kings College London [KCL]), and Martin Farley (Sustainable Labs adviser, University College London [UCL]/Research Efficiency, Kings College London), the current more holistic labs tab was created - now used by 22 different universities or hospitals within the Green Impact network.
As a specialised workplace, conducting audits can sometimes prove difficult - for example when trying to recruit students with labs experience and trying to arrange access to sensitive areas. Last year KCL and UCL joined forces to conduct peer-to-peer Labs audits. Staff from both institutions made visits to other sites to review their Green Impact work and discuss challenges and solutions – as Brian O’Sullivan put it “I found it very useful. The difference between the website and seeing the lab was really helpful to see” . While sustainable labs was the focus, much was also learnt and discussed beyond this including debating career paths, the best methods to secure and store tissue, and tricks of the trade how to incentivise various things around the lab.
We asked Martin Farley, Sustainable Laboratory Advisor at UCL and previously at KCL, a few questions on managing Green Impact labs:
What are the breadth of labs which are encompassed within your Green Impact programme, how have you engaged/recruited these labs?
For KCL we had 25 teams last year representing around 80-90% of all labs. UCL is still just starting, but in its 2nd year will have 20-30 teams with quite a few satellite institutes involved. I have engaged through spending time directly with each group, making the process as easy as possible, and packaging the benefits.
How does the support you provide your labs differ from other Green Impact teams?
Labs receive a slightly greater ratio of technical support to admin (more technical, less admin). We've designed the programme so that they’re asked to provide almost no evidence, and audits are done through peer-audits which I've coordinated. Last year we did them between universities, and are going to continue this year.
How are students involved in the labs aspect of your Green Impact programme?
Students are the drivers for actually running Green Impact within labs. I can recruit building managers, lab managers, etc., but when PhD and Masters students get involved their energy drives teams like no other. We've focussed our efforts on engaging post-grad students for labs to manage the teams and conduct the audits, and directed undergraduates towards the non-labs Green Impact opportunities which are more intuitive are require less specialist knowledge.
What would be your top tips for creating a community of sustainable labs at your organisation?
Consider yourself in a busy lab and someone asks you to take part in Green Impact. What would you want to see? You would want to know the impact of your actions, and to not waste time with anything additional. Try and make your Green Impact labs process streamlined and open – allow for all types of labs/groups, and try to align your goals of a more sustainable environment so as to not oppose their research.
As the Green Impact programme grows, LEAN hopes to grow alongside and continue to support sustainable practices within laboratories. If you want to get in touch with those involved, please contact email@example.com (Martin Farley) and firstname.lastname@example.org (Anna Lewis), or contact your NUS Green Impact project officer.