Considering the outsized carbon footprint of laboratories, the urgency of mitigating climate change, and the hyper-competitive environment that researchers are facing for funding, systemic changes towards more efficient lab operations and practices will benefit both science and public health. Yet current funding structures generally do not encourage or require research institutions to demonstrate environmental sustainability to receive funds.
Because research cannot happen without funding, that money can also help drive the systematic changes needed in lab sustainability. Research sponsors have the power to shift culture, systems, and the research enterprise towards efficiency, so it is essential that those institutions that are funding research be part of the solution. With these goals in mind, the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL) is prioritizing two important initiatives.
Million Advocates for Sustainable Science
Working together, My Green Lab and I2SL's University Alliance Group (UAG) created the Million Advocates for Sustainable Science letter in support of creating systemic change within the global science funding community. This letter acts as a call to action for research funders around the world. It is meant to encourage sustainability in research and to urge scientists and stakeholders to improve and implement sustainability, resource efficiency, and resiliency within research laboratories. The letter also serves to show support of goals made by funders to make these connections such Priority Action #3 of the recent Health and Human Services (HHS) Climate Action Plan.
We encourage sustainable lab practitioners, scientists, and lab designers, engineers, and builders to sign the letter now to join thousands of sustainable science advocates around the world in the push to change the way scientific research is conducted. There are two letters that have been drafted for advocates to sign:
- A general global letter
- A global letter with United States-specific additions relevant to U.S. funding sources
After signing, feel free to share this letter on social media and send it to friends and colleagues to have an even larger impact.
Bringing Efficiency to Research Grants
To take this effort further, the Bringing Efficiency to Research (BETR) Grants program is an ongoing focus of I2SL's UAG with the goal of connecting efficiency expectations and sustainability to research funding. Through BETR Grants, UAG aims to promote efficient spending of federal and non-profit sponsor funds supporting academic research by effectively reducing direct and overhead costs of research through sustainable practices and facilities. BETR Grants encourages making those connections, which will lead to widespread progress to advance sustainable practices in research, the efficient use of resources, and optimized spending of sponsor funding.
As a first step in this systematic change, the UAG is calling for voluntary inclusion of a description of efficient practices and/or facilities into grant proposals and provides different ways in which proposals can highlight efficiency improvements in their research processes:
- Equipment Sharing: Avoid duplicative equipment/supply purchases and reduce overhead costs, space, and energy/water requirements to support equipment.
- Space Utilization: Optimize use of existing research space to help to prevent the need for additional spaces which will both save funding and reduce the environmental impacts.
- Energy and Water Efficiency: Implement efficient practices and technologies in the lab to reduce unnecessary energy and water use.
- Assessments, Tools, and Programs: Participate in programs, assessments, and certifications that demonstrate your commitment to efficiency and sustainability.
Note: The Higher Education Associations Sustainability Consortium (HEASC) and the Disciplinary Associations Network for Sustainability (DANS) are also calling on higher education administrators and Human Resource departments to infuse sustainability principles and practices into job descriptions and annual performance evaluations. To assist institutions in this process, they have provided a list of potential phrases to include in a job description that incorporate a lens of sustainability.