The relevance of sustainable laboratory practices

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Abstract

Scientists are of key importance to the society to advocate awareness of the climate crisis and its underlying scientific evidence and provide solutions for a sustainable future. As much as scientific research has led to great achievements and benefits, traditional laboratory practices come with unintended environmental consequences. Scientists, while providing solutions to climate problems and educating the young innovators of the future, are also part of the problem: excessive energy consumption, (hazardous) waste generation, and resource depletion. Through their own research operations, science, research and laboratories have a significant carbon footprint and contribute to the climate crisis. Climate change requires a rapid response across all sectors of society, modeled by inspiring leaders. A broader scientific community that takes concrete actions would serve as an important step in convincing the general public of similar actions. Over the past years, grassroots movements across the sciences have recognized the overlooked impact of the scientific enterprise, and so-called Green Lab initiatives emerged seeking to address the environmental footprint of research. Driven by the voluntary efforts of researchers and staff, they educate peers, develop sustainability guidelines, write scientific publications and maintain accreditation frameworks. With this perspective we want to advocate for and spark leadership to promote a systemic change in laboratory practices and approach to research. Comprehensive evidence for the environmental impact of laboratories and their root-causes is presented, expanded with data from a current case study of the University of Groningen showcasing annual savings of 398 763 € as well as 477.1 tons of CO2e. This is followed by guidelines for sustainable lab practices and hands-on advice on how to achieve a systemic change at research institutions and industry. How can we expect industry, politics, and society to change, if we as scientists are not changing either? Scientists should lead by example and practice the change they want to see.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberd4su00056k
Pages (from-to)1300-1336
Number of pages37
JournalRSC Sustainability
Volume2
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1-May-2024

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