Bristol first in the world to achieve 100% Green Lab certification


By Emily Barrett, Third Year, Physics

In a world first, the University of Bristol has achieved Green Lab certification in all 990 of its laboratories through the Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF).

Developed by University College London, LEAF is a framework that universities can sign up for focused on making laboratories more sustainable. It contains a number of criteria for improving the sustainability of labs, covering areas such as waste, energy efficiency, chemical management and business travel.

Once the improvements have been implemented, labs have the option to estimate the carbon and financial savings as a result of their actions. Labs can aim for three different award levels: bronze, silver, and gold.

The effort has involved engagement from different tiers of the university. Anna Lewis, Clara Brigitta and Hilary McCarthy, members of the sustainability team at Bristol, told Epigram that ‘technical staff have been driving the bronze criteria within their schools’ but reaching the gold and silver award levels requires engagement from academic staff to cover criteria such as business travel.

Expanding on this, Anna Lewis, the University’s Sustainable Science Manager, talked about the contributions from students. While PhD and Master’s students working in labs have taken on a lot of the LEAF criteria themselves, there are opportunities for students at any level.

The effort has involved engagement from different tiers of the university

Trained as Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Volunteers (LEAVs), some students within STEM have been volunteering to conduct audits of the labs for LEAF. In addition, there are various internships that become available to students within the sustainability team.

In terms of sustainability, then, what is next for Bristol? The University has paved the way by being the first in the UK to declare a climate emergency and the first in the world to achieve 100% green labs certification. However, a lot still remains to be done if Bristol is to reach its ambitious target of net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Within the sciences, staff plan to continue to improve the sustainability of labs using LEAF 2021, an updated version of the framework, and the next step would be to encourage bronze certified labs to aim for silver or gold certification. Students wishing to become more involved outside of their undergraduate degree could speak to lab technicians about sustainability and consider research projects analysing sustainability within the university.

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According to Lewis, funding bodies could play an important role in incentivising universities to become more sustainable. Research councils are already thinking more about sustainability; for example, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) launched its environmental sustainability strategy which includes a sustainability score card. In the future, LEAF certification could be something that is considered here.

Featured Image: Epigram/Siavash Minoukadeh

What do YOU think Bristol's next steps should be to reach its carbon neutral target?