Medical Research Council adopts UCL tool to reduce carbon emissions in labs

University College London

The Medical Research Council (MRC) has signed up to the UCL-developed tool LEAF – Lab Efficient Assessment Framework – to help lab-based scientists reduce their carbon emissions and support the transition to net zero.

an image of a women holding up a LEAF bronze award

Created by Sustainable UCL in 2018, LEAF enables scientists to lower their emissions by making changes to the way they work, use laboratory equipment and consume resources.

The framework contains actions that lab users can take to save plastics, water, energy and other resources, and are proven to be effective without detrimental impact on the quality or progress of the science.

Joanna Marshall-Cook (Senior Sustainability Manager, Sustainable UCL) said: “The science tells us that time is short to avoid planetary chaos and we need to work fast to cut our carbon emissions. LEAF is helping to accelerate the move to sustainable science in the UK and internationally by ensuring the research community is at the forefront of sustainable laboratory practice.”

Martin Farley (Sustainable Labs Advisor, Sustainable UCL) added: “It’s been incredibly motivating to see the sector’s reception of LEAF. We’re excited to continue working with the scientific community to meet the challenges posed by climate change.”

Currently research in bio and life sciences laboratories uses huge amounts of energy, chemicals and resources, and laboratories often consume three to 10 times more energy than typical non-lab areas of universities. For example, a single standard ultra-low temperature freezer can consume as much power in a year as a typical UK household.

By taking part in the programme, MRC institutes’ laboratories will be assisted in reducing their carbon emissions and generally reduce the impact of its operations on the environment.

Professor Fiona Watt (Executive Chair of MRC) said: “I am delighted that MRC institutes have signed up to LEAF. This is a tested framework for reducing the environmental impact of our research activities and learning from the experience of other researchers. This will support the transformation towards net zero by 2040.”

The tool has recently been made available online, after a two-year pilot across the UK in 23 different institutions in over 230 laboratory groups.

As well as measuring carbon emissions, the LEAF’s “inbuilt calculators” also enable laboratories to estimate the impact of their actions in financial terms.

During the pilot, an estimated £641,000 was saved in total by the groups – and 648 tonnes of CO2e avoided, equivalent to taking 140 passenger vehicles off the road for a year.

“The online programme is intuitive and simple,” adds Joanna. “Researchers and technicians across the country have embraced to save everything from plastic to energy and water in their lab. They have welcomed the opportunity that LEAF provides to upskill and demonstrate their sustainability progress in an understandable way for funding bodies, students and other partners.”

  • Credit: LEAF

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